THE HOW AND THE WHY
Aenigma Theatre, Studio 1398, 13th-17th November
My Two Cents
My Two Cents
By Lillian Jasper
Sarah Treem’s The How and The Why is a fascinating piece of modern theatre. Two brilliant women, Rachel (Annie Arbuckle) and Zelda (Bronwen Smith) discuss their hypotheses on the evolutionary reasons for menstruation and menopause, respectively. Treem’s explanations are clear and intelligent, only occasionally veering into over-explanation (though, for us non-scientifically minded folk in the audience, it was nice to understand what they were talking about without feeling spoken down to). The first act whizzes by with animated conversations about primates, sperm, pathogens, grandmothers and plenty more. The swift pace of the dialogue and the commitment to the scientific language created an immersive, engaging atmosphere.
Arbuckle’s Rachel is a bundle of nerves, a fragile genius living with crippling anxiety. Smith’s Zelda is much more guarded, with a passion that has been muted by years of having to prove herself. The two are perfect foils, sparring and bouncing ideas off of each other. It’s incredibly refreshing to see this dynamic between two female characters - there is conflict, but it doesn’t come from where you’d expect, and the support and respect they have for each other never wavers.
The second act suffers slightly from being less intellectually focused and more emotionally driven - some of the playwright’s tactics verged on melodrama and were a bit cliche for a piece that initially seemed so sophisticated. Nonetheless, the emotion is handled deeply and honestly by the two actors.
There is so much to unpack in this play and so many issues to examine. I am not equipped to explain them all, but I am certainly hungry for more knowledge about this branch of scientific study and the inner workings of my own body. Leave your pre-conceptions at the door and you will almost certainly learn something about a topic that is woefully under-discussed (and still misunderstood). What’s more, you will be engaged and entertained throughout.
By Kelly Moncton
The How and the Why is an impressive experience, and you should make time for it. Sarah Treem has woven a very personal story with political and scientific theories that matter and resonate. I still can’t believe that I enjoyed two evolutionary biologists talking shop that much and that often. It’s a true feat to give the audience access to science without obviously dumbing it down. At the same time, this is a story about women analyzing menstruation and menopause and childbirth, and taking back the power to define these parts of their lives from men.
The performances by Bronwen Smith and Annie Arbuckle were strong and well-rounded. It was easy to see the determination and vulnerability in both of their characters, and a pleasure to witness the push and pull of their ideas and emotions. They also breezed through the jargon of evolutionary biology in a confident, natural way. Like peeling back to layers of a good friend, there were parts of both characters I found charming, and other moments I found repulsive.
The set was simple and bold, and the lighting and sound choices also spoke of good taste and imagination. I didn’t leave the theatre wishing any detail was different. It was an absolute pleasure to see The How and the Why, and Aenigma Theatre has done Vancouver a great service to bring us this local premiere. Return the favour and go see this rich play performed beautifully.