The Sound Of Completeness

I saw Itamar Moses’s Completeness last month. He’s a mikemariano dot com favorite; I had to!

Afterwards I was about to write an angry weblog post about the sound design. It took some of the sound effects used in the play (Windows start-up sounds, cell phone rings) and crumpled their samples into tossed off, limp compositions that did nothing but tell audience members it was OK to cough and shift in their seats. There was also some low-rent “I wish I was Angelo Badalamenti” moody synth during a very-unnecessary pseudo-flashback sequence.

It was lazy, terrible design that has no respect for music, man! Theatrical sound designers seem to have some elevator-music mentality—they think that composing for a transition means creating disposable music. But that’s the wrong way to think—if you don’t want to give me quality music, don’t give me any music at all!

Shame on you, sound designer Bray Poor!

But although the music was insulting, the overall design was actually interesting. The computers of Completeness whirred and hissed in interesting ways as they spun up, crashed, and restarted. Poor wasn’t lazy, he just wasn’t a good composer—and didn’t think he needed to be.

At the performance I saw (second week of previews) the set itself locked up during a scene change just before the final scene. Two of the actors came out and blamed it on “the board”—they said this problem came up during tech and it was better to wait than to manually push things into place. I looked behind me to see an audience of dead-eyes—the always-terrible Playwrights Horizons audience didn’t react at all. I shook my head; I actually wanted to see Karl Miller and Aubrey Dollar complete Completeness on the half-formed set, even if it threatened to kill them.

Now I see that reviews have revealed that this malfunction was intentional. Reviewers from nytheatre and New York Press hated it. Any audience member paying attention got nothing out of it. Luckily at Playwrights Horizons no audience member pays attention. No one woke up. No one even coughed.

The lock-up really adds nothing to Completeness, but learning that it was intentional tempers my hatred for the sound design. The set buzzed and hummed mid-change just like the crashing computers in the play itself. Thematic resonance!

It’s still a bad move and the scene changes still have bad music. So work on that, guys.

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