The How and the Why

by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 2, 2016

Two scientists engage in a discussion about the possible evolutionary reasons that human females menstruate and go through menopause. The scientists happen to be a woman who gave her child up at birth, and the daughter she never knew. The title "The How and the Why" represents the principal questions in scientific inquiry concerning evolutionary matters, and refers also to the how and the why of the facts of the younger scientists' birth.

As a dramatic devices go, this is a doozy, with plenty of material to mine. Women in a field largely populated with men, investigating the evolution of female bodies because they've been ignored by male-dominated science, grappling with the issues of reproductive decisions and the ramifications to the lives of the people involved; this is fertile stuff.

So to speak.

It seems niggling, then, to turn my nose up at the resulting play, but I found myself wanting more than just two people talking for two hours. Maybe it was the staging, maybe the uneven performances, but this play made me restless and impatient. These two intelligent scientists could not get out of their own heads, stuck in their cerebral havens and disconnected from their own humanities.

I'm sure that was part of the point, but there were occasions during the show when I just wanted to smack the younger scientist for her immaturity and impulsiveness.
Those qualities are to be expected, and were likely written into the script, as was the repeated Dramatic Flounce Nearly Offstage stopped by the Dramatic Last Word that Made her Turn Around.

Just thinking about it now makes my eyes roll. By the age of 28, I would hope most people don't threaten to leave a room because they've been offended -- at least not without realizing, after the second or third time, that they're being a little dramatic. And yet there she was, throwing her purse over her arm, swinging her long ponytail over her shoulder and heading for the exit. Again. And... again. And... again.

Could you just leave, already?

For a script whose premise hints at the strength and intelligence of women, this play buckles under tropes about emotional women. Under the guise of discussing all the possible angles, "The How and The Why" leads the audience away from the empowering science and possible matriarchal emergence and into the trap of "why women make bad relationship choices that leave them sad and alone." This is a missed opportunity that fails feminism. The discussions about the science were absolutely fascinating, and deserve a wider audience, but the reductive relational material was tiresome.

Despite the fact that this was two female scientists discussing female human evolution, this play utterly failed the Bechtel test. This was a chance for something more, but it caved under the weight of expectations for female behavior.

A sturdy, intelligent performance by Karen Trumbo gives this play its lone endorsement. Gwendolyn Duffy took the first half to get her feet under her, something she accomplished by speaking her lines loudly enough to reach the back of the auditorium in a 300-seat theatre. For this small venue, she was too loud. While telling a woman to tone it down has societal implications, this specific suggestion is limited to the first-half performance. Post-intermission, the volume was ideal.

I had high hopes about this play, but was wholly disappointed in the product.

"The How and The Why" runs through Nov. 19 at Coho Productions, 2257 NW Raleigh Street, Portland OR 97210. For tickets or information, call 503-220-2646 or visit http://www.cohoproductions.org/onstage/the-how-and-the-why/

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.