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Theater Review: The How and the Why

Photo 1When: Through April 6
Where: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave.
Running time: 2 hours
Tickets: $35-$45: 773-281-8463 or timelinetheatre.com

This intellectual prizefight crackles with energy and passion. Sarah Treem has crafted a captivating story filled with engaging dialogue. Pulled from real theories by real scientists, Treem has put this scientific tête-à-tête against a compelling emotional backdrop.

Rachel Hardeman (played with fierce conviction by Elizabeth Ledo) is a 28-year-old masters student in evolutionary biology with a thesis that she says will redefine how the world perceives the role of menstruation – it will ‘change the way we have sex.’  She comes to the office of senior professor and evolutionary biologist Zelda Kahn (played by the incomparable Janet Ulrich Brooks) for reasons that are not clear from the onset. Zelda has made her own mark on the scientific community (when she was around Rachel’s age) with the “grandmother hypothesis” which suggests evolutionary reasoning behind menopause.

HowAndWhy_1572Rachel’s theory seems to contradict Zelda’s, but the professor is not one to shy away from a good debate and she welcomes a challenge. Both of these talented and passionate actors are able to deftly balance the vehemence of the argument with the underlying relationship quickly growing between them.

The second act follows after a conference where Rachel has publicly submitted her theory. She finds herself ill-prepared to the heavy weight ring of public scrutiny and skepticism as she is met with scathing criticism and rebuttal. Zelda, a veteran of science, shows the strength of one who has had to defend her theories for years and has the thick skin that comes with it. She explains how the race for scientific recognition is more of a marathon then a sprint. Her sage advice brings the two closer.

HowAndWhy_1253One of the main plotlines of the piece focuses on the characters balancing the demands of career with the sacrifices inherent in personal relationships. Although Zelda makes no apologies for her decisions in the service of her work, when Rachel asks the question of whether it was worth it, knowing the fullness of what she sacrificed, the answer is compelling.

All of the design elements come together seamlessly to highlight the power dynamics that shift as we learn who these women are. Collette Pollard’s set design frames the action from top to bottom giving the impression of a boxing ring. High marks to the direction of Keira Fromm which moves swiftly and clearly through the scientific analysis. Fromm’s use of profound silences allow us to see these warriors of science without their armor and all while playing openly to all sides of the space.

Always exciting to see what Timeline has next up their sleeves, they will be hosting a panel of talented Australian playwrights followed by two readings of their work. The event is scheduled for Sunday, February 23, 2014 at the Chicago Cultural Center – 78 E. Washington St. All events are free and open to the public, but space is limited and reservations are strongly recommended. Call the Timeline Theatre Box Office at 773.281.8463 x6 or email boxoffice@timelintheatre.com to request reservations to any individual or all events.

Fresh Roasted Rating: Highly Recommended

– Karl Hamilton, Contributing Critic

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