The Nora Theatre Company has a winner in Sarah Treem’s THE HOW AND THE WHY, playing at the Central Square Theater through Oct. 21st. Treem wrote and produced all three seasons of the brilliant HBO series about a psychologist and his patients, called IN TREATMENT. (It is, rather was, my favorite television show. Alas, it’s no longer on the air.) She creates characters who burn with urgency and passion and although THE HOW AND THE WHY is ostensibly about women in the male dominated field of science, at heart it’s about a clash of characters.
Two female evolutionary biologists lock horns: one older and wiser and the other, young and rash and full of promise. Her research, in fact, threatens to supplant the older woman’s famous, accepted theory (on the role early woman played in the development of the advanced human brain). Clearly both women are driven …but what drives them and why? That’s what we find out and along the way we’re enticed by some fancy theoretical footwork on the subject of biology, specifically the reproductive (and post-reproductive) kind--- as well as some delightful and amusing give and take.
Director Daniel Gidron manages to keep the pace brisk, even in the throes of dense evolutionary theory. Debra Wise is elegant and controlled as the brusque senior scientist, while Samantha Richert’s character truly suffers with her insecurity. Wise is such a deft actress that she can convey boundless kindness and affection with a simple touch, creating one of the loveliest moments in the play. She and Richert make Treem’s story resonate beyond the dialogue. In the words of the professor’s (and my) beloved poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, they “take up the song.”