If you are at all familiar with the brutal self-help discipline of est (Erhard Seminar Training and Latin for “it is”), you will find it paraphrased, parodied and particularly incomprehensible in “Complete,” a new play by Andrea Kuchlewska currently having its West Coast premiere at the Matrix Theatre.
Two graduate students in linguistics spar over trainer Jack’s (Scott Victor Nelson) seminar profundities, such as, “You are creating yourself being afraid,” “There are no excuses,” and “There is no ‘trying.’” And to every protest he snaps, “I got that!” before he demolishes the protester.
As the scene switches back and forth between the seminar and the two students’ efforts to write an esoteric paper together, she (a shrewish Meredith Bishop) and he (a timid Scott Kruse) obsess over various crucial words. Her obsession revolves around the ways to use, or misuse, the word “create.”
“I feel rage behind my eyes when I hear language used incorrectly,” she reveals.
He, on the other hand, obsesses over the differences between a program and a training session. “The training takes vulnerable people and promises them power,” she informs him, aghast that he is taking it seriously.
Bishop is a brilliant actress, but she would be a lot funnier if she stopped screaming from time to time. Kraus is also very good, but the play belongs to Nelson, the badgering guru, who has the smirking, intimidating, wise-guy approach down pat.
The character the play doesn’t belong to is Evie (Tess Oswalt), who is either the daughter of, or a younger version of, Bishop’s character. The reason that point is ambiguous is that Oswalt’s delivery is so squeaky, fast paced and cutesy that you can’t understand a word she says. Not a good omen for a play about linguistics.
Director Jennifer Chambers does a good job of keeping things moving, but she can’t do much about the dialogue, which takes the essential messages of The Training and repeats them ad infinitum. But then, if all the redundancy were removed, the play would be only 10 minutes long.
“Complete” will continue Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through March 30. The Matrix Theatre is located at 7657 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles. Call (323) 960-7822 or visit www.plays411.com/complete for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.