Itamar Moses on "Completeness"
A few years ago, while cleaning out some boxes or desk drawers in my childhood home, my mom came across something she thought I might like to have: a booklet in which my pediatrician, Dr. Grossman, had recorded his observations about me over the course of the first six years of my life. In this booklet, between directives about diet and the dates of various milestones ("Sat without support: six months." "First step: age one."), are peppered some frank assessments of my personality and temperament:
At one year, six and a half months: "Expect his tantrums to recur."
At one year, eleven months: "His exploration of his power will be a recurrent theme."
And, at two years, nine months, this one: "His brightness will mislead you -- you will expect from him more maturity than he can deliver."
I thought of this booklet again when Playwrights Horizons asked me to write this short piece about my play Completeness, in which Elliot and Molly, two science graduate students at the same university, meet in a public computer cluster and use professional collaboration as an excuse to start dating each other, or, possibly, vice-versa (i.e. it is possible that Elliot and Molly in fact use dating each other as an excuse for a professional collaboration, not that thinking about my pediatrician's notebook caused Playwrights Horizons to ask me for this piece). Because, while I am (obviously) not a scientist myself, Completeness is nevertheless an extremely personal piece of writing insofar as it explores a frustrating paradox that has plagued me apparently at least since I was thirty-three months old: that the ability to think about what's going on inside me, how I feel and what it means and what I ought to do about it, and even the ability to describe these things in words, doesn't seem to make the slightest bit of difference when it comes to what I'm able to succeed at in my private life.
I know I'm not alone with this frustration. My sense, on the contrary, is that it's universal. But it does seem to be a particularly vexing problem for those people who, like the characters in my play, are inclined to think so hard about these things, and are capable of explaining them so well, that they think it really ought to make a difference. Elliot is a computer scientist and Molly is a molecular biologist and so explaining complicated things is central to their work, and, when it comes to their work, these explanations matter, in the sense that the more they can explain, well, then, the closer their work gets to "complete." But, in their relationship with one another, all that describing, analyzing and explaining only delays the thing that really matters, which is: choosing what to actually do. And no amount of analysis, description, or explanation seems to make that any easier at all. Bear with me. (Three years, four months: "This negative phase will be fairly brief.")
One of the paradoxes of playwriting is that, while a play can emerge from a powerful need to say something in particular, nearly all of the things that a play conveys most powerfully are in what remains unsaid. And how exactly not to say the things I want to say, or how to allow the play to tell me what it wants to say which is probably more interesting than what I thought I was trying to say in the first place, is a slightly different challenge every time I write something, even a piece like this. So maybe it's good I've used six hundred of the seven hundred words Playwrights Horizons gave me, and that now there isn't room to say much more on the subject of Completeness, on what I was hoping to accomplish when I wrote it, or on what I think it is "about," because I am now forced to engage instead in the act of discipline and trust and, dare I say, maturity, that is relinquishing control, and letting my play go, and allowing it to forge, on its own, its new relationship, with you. I hope my pediatrician would be proud.
- Itamar Moses, Thirty-three years, ten months