“It’s yours, you created it, you gave birth to it. Don’t throw it away because you’re frightened of the implications.”
Zelda (Janis Dardaris), an award-winning evolutionary biologist, is telling Rachel (Victoria Frings), a young woman at the beginning of her career in the field, to take ownership of her potentially groundbreaking scientific idea. But like much else in Sarah Treem’s well-crafted THE HOW AND THE WHY, now receiving its second-ever production by Philadelphia’s InterAct Theatre, oceans of meaning lay just below the surface. Rachel is Zelda’s birth-child, given up for adoption just as the older academic was making her name in the discipline.
InterAct has made its own name by producing challenging works with political and social undertones, but sometimes the messages in its theater can come at the expense of the drama. Treem’s characters are both academic scientists talking in the dense language of their field about ideas with profound implications for women and society. But with convincing and elegantly crafted dialogue, she has created a dramatically engaging and surprisingly funny piece that never feels didactic or heavy-handed.
Credit for this goes also to director Seth Rozin (also InterAct’s artistic director), who uses the well designed (Meghan Jones) but potentially static settings of a university office and a Boston bar table with deceptive mobility and draws powerful performances from both actors. Dardaris particularly gives a spot-on and consistent interpretation of a seasoned academic (her characterization was a spitting image of my department head in a local university).
The play is not without its faults. The initial mother-daughter reunion comes off unnaturally and the younger character veers between twenty-eight-year-old adolescent pettiness and insecurity and worldly scientific confidence. But as a vehicle to express provoking ideas it is a resounding success.
All of the science in THE HOW AND THE WHY is real, and it’s delightful to see so many interesting thoughts presented so accessibly. Most essential is the idea that female physiology evolved in its own way, for its own reasons, and that an understanding of how and why of this is crucial to an understanding of our species and its societies. Similarly, in short, THE HOW AND THE WHY is a strongly feminist work that just feels strongly human.
THE HOW AND THE WHY
by Sarah Treem
Directed by Seth Rozin
October 21-November 13 , 2011
InterAct Theatre Company
2030 Sansom Street
Philadelphia PA 19103