Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 6, 2014

The How And The Why

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through July 12, 2014
By K.J. Rogowski

Sarah Treem's "The How And The Why" is an ambitious two-person show currently playing at New Century Theatre. This production is, in part, an extensive exploration and debate of a proposed scientific theory on the evolutionary reason for menstruation, part professional crossroads on how to get ahead in the scientific community while leaving your coworker/lover behind, and part exploration of the deeply conflicted relationship between a mother and the daughter. By a twist of fate, some 28 years later, the daughter who was abandoned at birth ends up being her own mother's scientific collaborator. As if this was not enough to absorb, the play also includes the introduced, but never followed though on, plot element of one of the characters having stage three cancer.

Act I moves fairly well, although the ongoing antagonism between the two characters is never explained, only vaguely hinted at, which leaves audience members wondering exactly what is happening and why. However, much credit especially goes to the two actors, Lisa Abend and Suzanne Ankrum. At the opening night performance, a stir-related power outage put their stage in sheer darkness. The two never lost composure, but assured the audience "this happens all the time," getting a good round of applause. In a few minutes the lights were back on, they came back, restarted a few lines back from when the lights went out, and moved ahead unflustered and seamlessly.

The scientific and career conflicts debated in the Act I are detailed and well punctuated with the push and pull of conflicted characters. They move towards and away from one another as the action and arguments play out. Act II, however, takes an odd turn, with the prime characters meeting once again in "a dive bar." At this point, the production looses its drive. The main factors at play are the script's repetition of the debates and arguments from Act I with scientific theories and counter theories explained, argued, and re-argued, as are the personal conflicts. Director Sheila Siragusa's choice is to just sit the two at a table, in a room all alone, and there they stay for the majority of the act. In spite of lots of room to move, to push, and pull, there was little movement. Useful props were not used, such as the dartboard that, oddly, had no darts.

It may be that the script tries to take on and resolve too many complex issues, or something missing in the action, but the production leaves its audience, at least at the play's first performance, wondering about the how and why.