The How and the Why by Sarah Treem

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Last weekend we saw the remarkable play, The How and the Why written by Sarah Treem, directed by Keira Fromm at Timeline Theater. Though I was unfamiliar with the playwright, clearly she has accumulated quite a bit of success: writer/producer for House of Cards along with many other HBO productions, she has written at least 5 other full-length plays.

The How and the Why, nominated for a 2014 Jeff Award, is ultimately about relationships—between women and men in the field of science, between women, between mother and daughter, between generations. The central intellectual conceit of the play is that scientists usually can describe the “how” of phenomena, but explaining the “why” is much trickier, but it is the why in which not only evolutionary scientists are most interested.

The dialogue between the two actresses, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Elizabeth Ledo, is smart (it even crackles),  clever, crisp, and quick delivered with an organic and genuine nuance and edginess. The hard-edged sarcasm concealing the mushy center of Zelda, the older woman, and the tough exterior hiding the emotional chaos of Rachel, the young woman working on her PhD, interact in a visceral skirmishing choreography of feelings and truthful challenge. How they wrestle and even why they are compelled to wrestle drives the evolution of the play and the evolutionary science to which they both are married. It also drives the evolution of their relationship and why the questions with which they grapple are so engaging.

This play is emotionally complex, stretching our capacities to comprehend the entanglements which we build for and around ourselves (and others) and in which our life’s work and relationships thrive, but more often suffer.

It runs through April 6.

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