Geek love at Theater Wit

Most romantic heroines don't work with yeast cultures. Most heroes do not win their loves by teasing them with the possibility of a really hot data-mining algorithm. But geeks deserve romantic happiness just as much as the rest of us — all right, the rest of you. And for people who spent entirely too much time in graduate school, Itamar Moses' very enjoyable new play "Completeness" might just be the only tolerable kind of rom-com: one that celebrates the seductive power of smarts.

And, to its credit, the nefarious morality of graduate students, a breed famously able to talk its way out of every lack of commitment and make every lover being dumped feel like they were the cause of their own elimination.

"Completeness" has a lot to enjoy, and some talky pretension that gets a bit much, but it offers a particularly thorough depiction of the self- justifying speech, a nattering on about work, focus and distraction when the real truth is that someone else has caught the eye. And if you detect a note of personal bitterness there, you'd be right.

Every theater needs a brand in a city with a couple of hundred of them. And Theater Wit — the producing arm of the rental venue of the same name on Belmont Avenue — has long enjoyed a kind of sub-specialty in theater for nerds. Date nights for dweebs, of which this offering surely is a doozy.

At Theater Wit, there long has been a love of sexy plays about math, comedies probing the meeting point of romance and logic, and, in this most recent case, a play that ponders whether a computer scientist can submit himself to biological imperatives (yeast cultures, you might say) long enough to bed a cute biologist, not to mention whether the cute biologist in question can apply enough mathematical logic to make the relationship functional, in the binary sense.

In essence, the play is a love quartet. Elliott (the deceptively fresh-faced Matt Holzfeind) dumps the undergraduate Lauren (Rae Gray, who is appropriately maudlin throughout) for the biologist Molly (Kristina Valada-Viars) who first has to extricate herself from an affair with her faculty advisor Don (Andrew Jessop). All of that you buy perfectly well, at least until the play jumps the shark in Act 2 when other, unnecessary characters start appearing and the basic rules of engagement change one too many times. Moses knows these kinds of characters well and his play is on the best footing when it stays with a core couple — both empathetic and annoying under Jeremy Wechsler's direction. Valada-Viars and Holzfeind make quite the sexy couple and the piece has some rather beguiling sensuality stuck among the terminals and lesson plans, which heats up the action quite nicely and gives you a break from all the talk.

Wechsler's production struggles in the Act 2, alongside the play's metadramatic stutters, which hurt the pace. But Valada-Viars is so relentlessly intense, she single-handedly holds your interest. The show also has the benefit of a very zesty high-tech set from Joe Schermoly that represents the hearts of the geeks with a series of graphic images on the walls of their studies/boudoirs. It's a clever way to look at a couple who cannot separate their personal lives from their research. And, these days, who can?

cjones5@tribune.com

Twitter@ChrisJonesTrib

When: Through March 24

Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Tickets: $18-$36 at 773-975-8150 or theaterwit.org

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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