The KISS principle tells us to “Keep it simple, Stupid!” In other words, it’s a simple design (or romance for that matter) that works best, unnecessary complexity being the enemy of a successful outcome.

Nerds-in-love Elliot and Molly learn the truth of KISS in Itamar Moses’s Completeness, the popular young playwright’s latest World Premiere comedy, now playing at South Coast Repertory. If only the computer scientist and the molecular biologist could just keep it simple, maybe their fledgling romance might have a chance of not imploding.

Elliot (Karl Miller) and Molly (Mandy Siegfried) meet cute one day in the university computer lab. He starts up a conversation with the petite, pretty biology student who soon reveals that she wanted to meet the quirkily good-looking computer geek every bit as much as he wanted to meet her.

Elliot arrives in Molly’s life (or at least at her computer station) just in the nick of time. The biology student is having difficulties with an experiment involving yeast cultures, and Elliot thinks he might just be able to come up with an algorithm to simplify her results—the KISS principle as a catalyst for romance.

Both 20somethings are ripe for a new relationship, or at least for getting out of their current ones. Elliot is at the tail end of a rebound romance with Lauren (Brooke Bloom), a young woman who could, in the words of Stephen Sondheim, “drive a person crazy,” and by person, I mean anyone. (Fortunately, Lauren’s particular brand of crazy-drivingness makes for some of the funniest dialog you’re likely to hear all year.) Molly too has come to the end of the relationship road with Don (Johnathan McClain), her faculty advisor, and falling for someone more or less her academic equal might be better than the power imbalance of her current romance.

Still, just as the course of true love didn’t run smooth in Shakespeare’s day, its contemporary path runs not a tad smoother, both Elliot and Molly seemingly bent on sabotaging their relationship by ignoring the KISS principle in favor of over-complication—particularly after intermission.

Director Pam MacKinnon and her cast of four strike just the right tone to help make Completeness both enjoyable and brainy. Miller has so much nerdy sex appeal and charm that it’s no wonder Elliot manages to snag women that might at first seem out of his league. Siegfried has the kind of girl-next-door prettiness that made stars of Meg and Reese, and tip-top acting chops to match. The two leads have enormous chemistry together, both in and out of the sack (and in the interest of full frontal disclosure, there are two brief but revealing instances of disrobing).

Bloom and McClain play three different characters each, something this reviewer might have figured out had I looked a bit closer at my program. In one instance, I thought I was watching a flashback and that that was why they looked different. (Had Moses kept it simple, I might not have felt so stupid when I discovered my error.) Bloom steals every scene she’s in as Elliot’s soon-to-be ex, a woman who can turn any conversation into the verbal equivalent of an M. C. Escher painting. McClain is terrific at what turns out to be three different characters. Who knew? And both actors are experts at convincing us they’re ad-libbing a technical emergency.

Russell H. Champa’s lighting is a marvel of complexity with built-in malfunctions, both major and minor, particularly an Act Two mishap that may leave you experiencing a combination of bemused surprise and a desire to smack back once you find out you’ve been Punk’d. Is Moses playing fair by using the play’s lighting design to prove a point? I’ll let you decide.

Christopher Barreca’s set design is yet another South Coast Rep marvel, its sterile walls and partitions suggesting just the impersonality you’d expect from a Tech university setting, morphing from office to library to dorm room with the push of an invisible button. Bray Poor’s sound design and original music combine the scientific and the romantic in ideal proportion. Sara Ryung Clement’s costumes are precisely what these people would have in their closets.

Kelly L. Miller is dramaturg, Jackie S. Hill production manager, and Jennifer Ellen Butler stage manager.

Despite its deliberate flaunting of the KISS principle, Completeness kept me entertained for two hours and invested in Elliot and Molly as a couple, In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, if only to better “get” it the second time around.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
–Steven Stanley
April 24, 2011
Photos: Scott Brinegar

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