Andrea Kuchlewska’s “Complete,” now in its West Coast premiere at the Matrix, is a portmanteau parody that jointly sends up the self-help movement, as well as the study of linguistics.
The excesses and pretensions of both subjects are potentially fascinating. Unfortunately, Kuchlewska’s play is so awash in jargon that meaning is often swamped. The dialogue varies from comical self-help banalities to arcane linguistic references that baffle anyone not conversant with the subject.
Under the direction of Jennifer Chambers, the actors spout inaccessible verbiage as if they were delivering Neil Simon one-liners worthy of rim-shots. By the time we learn who these characters actually are and why they are acting as they do, we have almost ceased to care.
The action opens in an est-like self-help seminar led by Jack (Scott Victor Nelson), a smooth guru with a sadistic edge. In this particular training, Jack’s target is Micah (Scott Kruse), a linguist who is unable to tell his fellow linguist, Eve (Meredith Bishop), that he loves her.
The action, which segues back and forth in time, cuts mainly between Jack's seminars and Eve and Micah’s academic life, as the two collaborate on a presentation that sends both into meltdown mode.
Bishop is a naturally gifted comic actor, but her character is so unvaryingly splenetic that we question just why Micah is so besotted with her. Tess Oswalt, substituting at the last moment for another actor, rounds out the cast as young Eve, whose youthful trauma partially explains the adult Eve’s stridency.
Those penultimate revelations, near play's end, result in the first real clear-cut connection of the evening -- a welcome but belated denouement.
[For the Record, 3:45 p.m. Feb. 28: A previous version of this post misspelled Neil Simon's first name as Neal.]
“Complete,” Matrix, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 30. $25. (323) 960-7822. www.plays411.com/complete. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.