Review: The How and the Why (TimeLine Theatre)

| February 15, 2014
Janet Ulrich Brooks and Elizabeth Ledo star in TimeLine Theatre's "The How and the Why" by Sarah Treem, directed by Keira Fromm. (photo credit: Lara Goetsch)       
      
The How and the Why

Written by Sarah Treem 
Directed by Keira Fromm
at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map)
thru April 6  |  tickets: $35-$48   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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An emotionally rich, suspenseful drama

     

Elizabeth Ledo and Janet Ulrich Brooks star in TimeLine Theatre's "The How and the Why" by Sarah Treem, directed by Keira Fromm. (photo credit: Lara Goetsch)

    
TimeLine Theatre presents
    
The How and the Why

Review by Catey Sullivan 

Thanks to the power of pop culture’s ingrained patriarchy, any play that purports to be about menstruation and menopause comes prepackaged with a significant ick factor. The world at large is so freaked out by the very thought of menstrual periods that it can’t even stomach a Tampax ad with red liquid in it. (I’ll never forget that time that, as a very young child, I glimpsed a used pad in the bathroom trash can and was thoroughly confused by the fact that its wasn’t spotted with the color of Caribbean waters sparkling at sunrise.)

Elizabeth Ledo and Janet Ulrich Brooks star in TimeLine Theatre's "The How and the Why" by Sarah Treem, directed by Keira Fromm. (photo credit: Lara Goetsch)So kudos to TimeLine for daring to take on a two-woman drama anchored in the crimson tide. But Sarah Treem‘s emotionally rich, unexpectedly suspenseful and uncompromisingly upfront drama is far from a blunt exploration of the mechanics of riding the cotton pony. Through the relationship of two gifted biologists, Treem crafts a drama that wraps history, psychology and biology around a poignant drama that doubles as a sort of scientific whodunnit.

Actually "whydunnit" may be a more apt description. As 28-year-old Rachel Hardeman (Elizabeth Ledo, embodying the whippersnapper brilliance the role demands) points out early on, we know the "how" of menstruation and menopause: The bodily logistics of both biological imperatives are understood. But the why of menstruation and menopause? That’s a mystery as deep as the Mariana Trench.

Arriving in the office of renowned reproductive biologist Zelda Kahn (the magnificent Janet Ulrich Brooks), Rachel has two agendas. One has to do with her research and a startling new theory about menses, a thesis that would shatter the fundamentals of human sexuality and all we think we know about it. The other agenda is more personal than scientific. Revealing it would result in a major spoiler, so we’ll just leave it at that.

As for Rachel’s new theory, it does indeed sound – on the surface anyway – radical: Menstruation, she asserts, is the body’s way of flushing out toxins that come riding into the womb on the backs of sperm. Predictably, her exhaustively researched conclusion goes over like a lead balloon when Rachel presents her findings at a the prestigious seminar Treem uses as a backdrop to The How and the Why. The seminar takes place off stage, but one can easily imagine how the male-dominated realm of science reacts to being told that their sperm is toxic. The theory is an affront to the very essence of manhood.

Elizabeth Ledo and Janet Ulrich Brooks star in TimeLine Theatre's "The How and the Why" by Sarah Treem, directed by Keira Fromm. (photo credit: Lara Goetsch)

Zelda, meanwhile, has her own ground-breaking theory about female biology. Menopause, she argues, evolved as a mechanism to free women up from a lifetime of childbearing in order to allow them to become hunter/gatherers. The links between Zelda’s "grandmother theory" and Rachel’s takes on menses are complex on both an objectively scientific and a subjectively human level. And as Treem moves The How and the Why from Zelda’s office to a dive bar, the relationship between the two scientists expands and deepens even as Rachel explodes with rage and bitterness and the thick-skinned strength of Zelda falls away to reveal the flawed, vulnerable woman lurking just below the super-scientist facade.

Director Keira Fromm coaxes maximum humanity from a narrative that could easily become more of an academic debate than a compelling drama. That’s a significant part of the beauty of The How and the Why: Scientific debate becomes deeply personal here. Rachel and Zelda are experts in their field, but the implications of their work go far beyond a gathering of elite professionals that serves as Treem’s setting.

Brooks is superbly multi-dimensional as Zelda, a woman whose ability to thrive in a traditionally male field hasn’t come without cost. Ledo is equally capable, creating a character that often seems younger and less experienced, but no less impassioned or intelligent version of Zelda.

According to the well-worn maxim, biology is destiny. In The How and the Why, it’s also a provocative puzzle where the missing pieces provide a source of fantastic drama.

  
Rating: ★★★
  
   

The How and the Why continues through April 6th at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $35-$48, and are available by phone (773-281-8463) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TimeLineTheatre.com(Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes, includes an intermission)

Elizabeth Ledo and Janet Ulrich Brooks star in TimeLine Theatre's "The How and the Why" by Sarah Treem, directed by Keira Fromm. (photo credit: Lara Goetsch)

Photos by Lara Goetsch


     

artists

cast

Janet Ulrich Brooks (Zelda Kahn), Elizabeth Ledo (Rachel Hardeman), Susie Griffith (u/s, Zelda Kahn), Isabel Ellison (u/s, Rachel Hardeman)

behind the scenes

Keira Fromm (director), Collette Pollard (scenic design), Alison Siple (costume design), Christine Binder (lighting design), Mikhail Fiksel (sound design), Julie Eberhardt (properties design), Maren Robinson (dramaturgy), Dina Spoerl (lobby display design), Jinni Pike (stage manager), J. Christopher Brown (assistant director), Mary Hungerford (production assistant), Austin Pettinger (costume design assistant), Bailey Rosa (asst. lighting design), Left Wing Scenic (set construction), Will Dean (master electrician), Lara Goetsch (photos, marketing)

Janet Ulrich Brooks and Elizabeth Ledo star in TimeLine Theatre's "The How and the Why" by Sarah Treem, directed by Keira Fromm. (photo credit: Lara Goetsch)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, TimeLine Theatre

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