By Sarah Treem
Directed by Keira Fromm
At TimeLine Theatre, Chicago
Smart writing and strong acting give depth to The How and the Why
This two-hander finds two women who meet for the first time just before a national conference. They are in Cambridge, Mass. Zelda Kahn (Janet Ulrich Brooks) is preparing for the scientific conference when her visitor, Rachel Hardeman (Elizabeth Ledo) arrives for their scheduled meeting. The two women, both scientists, seem nervous and uneasy. Both are brilliant evolutionary biologists who share a zealous bold and contrarian approach to their science in a male-dominated field.
These women have a mysterious past relationship that causes much debate about their theories regarding sex, evolution, feminism, generational divides and the status of female scientists. This is a smartly written work with biting sarcasm, intelligent ideas and deeply human observations on generational thoughts.
The role and status of women in academia and in science is vividly referenced. We see how not much has changed since the feminists of the 1970’s (such as Zelda Kahn) broke new ground. Rachel Hardeman still struggles to both make it as a successful scientist and to have a relationship with a man. While some may see The How and the Why as a “women’s play,” I think it is a story about the current status of science, female versus male attitudes from a female perspective. It is hard to debate many of the arguments presented here.
I admire playwright Sarah Treem’s drama because she was able to weave the debate over evolutionary biological theories with a mysterious “how and why” relationship between the two women. The tension between Janet Ulrich Brooks’ middle aged professor and her 20something brashly confident Rachel Hardeman, played with gusto by Ledo, comes across brilliantly as the two talented actors verbally and non verbally play out their foibles. The problems of having work recognition and a sustaining family life is refreshingly presented here.
Janet Ulrich Brooks and Elizabeth Ledo are nicely matched here. Brooks’ command of the stage is challenged by the strong performance by Ledo. She is doing her finest dramatic work to date in this. These two talents spar evenly as each strives to top the other. This is a new twist on the role of women in science. It is intelligent and timely.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2014
For more info check The How and the Why page at theatreinchicago.com
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, Chicago, IL, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $35 -$45 – $48, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through April 6, 2014