Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray
Gail M. Burns: The How and The Why is a play about the biological fact of being female. It is not about sexual preference or gender roles, it is about being biologically, physiologically female. The two characters in the play – women aged 28 and 56 – are evolutionary biologists by trade, and they are also mother and daughter, but only in the biological sense since Zelda (Tod Randolph) gave Rachel (Bridget Saracino) up for adoption immediately after birth.
Larry Murray: I wasn’t sure how I would react to The How and The Why, but the focus on what it means to be female was surprisingly revelatory to me. So many men joke about how they don’t “understand” women, they don’t realize that figuring it all out is a pretty complicated job for women, too. There are far more difficult choices than I realized as any women balances her personal and workaday worlds with the unyielding evolutionary demands of child bearing. It’s something you have done so smoothly, and I have little understanding of. This play covers a lot of information as its scientific theories are discussed alongside some very human emotions. It’s a volatile combination. The relationship on stage could be compared to the Hadron collider because – at times – the mother and daughter came so close to annihilating their relationship with one another. But for all the insights science gives us, isn’t it limited in its contribution to understanding mammals, being more about contemporary women in the 21st Century than aborigines in the forest?
Gail: Playwright Sarah Treem addresses many aspects of the choices available to upper class white women in modern day America, yes. The choices available to women of other classes and races are very different, and actually more dramatic, which is why they are written about more often. Choices to reproduce, to marry, even to have a career that allows for financial independence are unique to this race and class in this culture.
Larry: While the how and why of scientific inquiry is easy to understand – how do things happen and for what reason – the collision between Zelda and Rachel is less easy to fathom. We know how the 29 year old tracked down her birth mother, but it is not at all clear why. Within the first few minutes of the play she seems unprepared to ask the important questions someone would ask a birth mother, Rachel makes an attempt to leave several times before the gentle comments of Zelda bring her back to their meeting.