The key to comedy is timing and pace. Chalk it up to art or science, but mathematically a rom-com isn't going to work if its more than two hours. Therein lies the problem with the Midwest premiere of Completeness.
Built on the premise that modern romance is more complex than any scientific problem, Theater Wit’s latest production by Itamar Moses focuses on grad students tackling love with the same analytical approach they use on dissertations. This is good. This can be funny.
Now add an imaginative set by Joe Schermoly that helps tell the story via lights by Michael Rourke, projections by Michael Stanfill, and an intentional technical break down. This is good. This is funny.
In fact, the set serves as a stronger supporting character than cast member Rae Gray whose two portrayals are too similar to differentiate as different people. Supporting player Andrew Jessop shows more range, but is harnessed by unoriginal material as seen in his phone message scene which is straight out of the 1999 film Election.
Fortunately at the core are fine performances by Matt Holzfeind and Kristina Valada-Viads who successfully offer their mental and physical presence to the work. This is good. But not that funny because any quick-witted banter they exchange is ultimately drowned in a sea of long-winded speeches.
Remember, pace is a key element in rom-coms. Without keeping the dialogue and action moving along, comedy will quickly turn to drama. And without arming the characters with high stakes, the drama will wane as well. In other words, Completeness doesn’t completely work since it needs less talking and more tension.
But if playwright Moses and director Jeremy Wechsler adopt the same problem-solving enthusiasm as the play's characters, they’ll rework the production to heighten the humor and prove to be as funny as a rom-com postulates.
Completeness runs through March 24 at Chicago’s Theater Wit on 1229 W. Belmont Avenue. Regular show times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $18-$36. For more information, visit www.TheaterWit.org or call 773-975-8150.