Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The How And The Why"

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note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Richard Pacheco

"The How And The Why"
at Trinity Repertory

Reviewed by Richard Pacheco

Trinity Rep’s most recent offering is the Sarah Treem play, “The How and the Why.” There are only two characters in the play. Ms. Treem also wrote and was occasional supervising producer for HBO’s “In Treatment” This play features two brilliant women with different takes on a controversial theory regarding female evolution, the women are from two different generations. The women are at times acerbic and witty, very intellectual and often totally at odds with each other both scientifically and personally. The verbal fencing can sometimes be intense and provocative.

Trinity Rep veteran Anne Scurria as the professor, Zelda and Barrie Kreinik and the student, Rachel often battle it out with vigor and venom through twists and turns in both their theoretical positions and their personal relationship.

Ms. Scurria is Dr.Kahn, a leading expert in the field of evolutionary biology and Ms. Kreinik is an equally brilliant younger woman on the verge of releasing her own novel and controversial groundbreaking theory. They share a deep intensity about female biology and also some dark secrets.

The play is a mixture of science and passion, often gone awry with unexpected consequences. The two women battle about the impact of menopause on evolution with drollness and conviction.

Ms. Scurria is excellent as Zelda Kahn. During the first act, which takes place in her office she is icy, but poised. She is a woman who has seen many battles, won some, lost some and there have been definite impacts on her personal life. She is smart and courteous while welcoming the newcomer who wants to speak at the scientific convention where she is on the board.

Her attempts at being friendly and personal often fall short and Ms. Scurria handles it with skill and confidence, balancing a desire to be personable with the assurance of long achievement and surviving all of her longtime battles. As the play evolves she exposes a more human side that makes her more appealing. Ms. Scurria is elegant and complex in the role, handling all the emotional demands and nuances with dexterity and honesty.

Ms. Kreinik is the passionate and ambitious Rachel who is not very experienced in the scientific world or for that matter life issues. She is determined and intelligent, downright dogged at times with a bit of tunnel vision. She does not react well to criticism and can often be defensive. She is a mish mash of emotions with intellectual theory.

However the character seems to be a bit self-absorbed and immature, not truly aware of what it takes to compete at a world class level and its possible sacrifices. She seems to want it to be easy—one shot and that is it to firmly and irrevocably establish her career. She seems to ready to toss it all away at the first sign of serious criticism. Ms. Krenik is intense and passionate in the role and deftly able to handle the witty interchanges with skill and conviction and the emotional shifts with sincerity. While the acting is impressive the character seems to leave something to be desired.

One of the twists in this which adds so much to the meeting is that they are mother and daughter and the child was given up for adoption when she was six days old. This is the first time they have met since then. It brings whole other elements into the mix of the meeting and a deeper resonance to not only their intellectual discussions, but their personal interactions as well.

It is directed by Shana Gozansky, a Brown/Trinity Rep MFA graduate as will be Ms. Kreinik in 2013. She keeps the pacing for the most part right on course and moving along except for a couple of spots where it slows down in the science debate due to the script.

The set design by Tilly Grimes is simple and clever. The office is cluttered and imposing and the bar/restaurant empty and stark, both very effective.

Olivera Gajic’s costumes capture the difference between the now established Zelda and the upstart Rachel.

It is the performances which make this play enticing.

The production continues to Dec. 30 at Trinity Repertory. Call 401-351-4242 or go to Tickets are $28-$68.

"The How And The Why" (till 30 December)
@ 201 Washington Street, PROVIDENCE RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide