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REVIEW: Just See The How and the Why (Theatre Unbound)

Writing a theatre review is a mix of art and craft. A play review that reads like a play-by-play live blogging of a sports game sits more on the side of craft; selecting details to comment on that resonate with the whole experience of the play is more on the side of art. Attempting to distill an entire experience into a single phrase or score is reductionist to an extreme degree, but we try and love doing so anyway. Thumbs up/thumbs down? Three and a half or four stars? Percentage score? Just go and see The How and the Why already.

Theatre Unbound’s new production of The How and the Why opened at the New Century Theatre on Friday. This play by Sarah Treem (amongst many other things, a co-producer and writer for HBO’s In Treatment and a co-executive producer and writer for House of Cards) is smart, intelligent, and deep in its engagement with identity and the influence of gender on scientific thought. It’s the sort of play that breeds a lot of discussion on the drive home, and which you just might drag your friends back to for a return visit so that you can talk with them about more than a hastily read Wikipedia summary or Facebook comment.

What else is there to say without giving away key plot details or otherwise spoiling the experience? The staging by Shelli Place is intimately standoffish, a balance that suits the characterizations well. The New Century’s stage has been given a more prominent thrust configuration for the production, a simple decision that does much to create a more of a fly-on-the-wall feeling than the normal NCT experience. The two actresses upon which this duo show pivots, Carolyn Kaiser and Molly Pach, give very naturalistic, unstylized performances that underscore the plot’s verismo. That’s a lot more difficult than it sounds, and does a lot for selling the story.

Note: This play shares a title with a mammoth, lauded book by David Park on the development of the science of physics. Both are excellent, but entirely different aside from that characteristics. You’ll have a more that you want to talk about after seeing Sarah Treem’s play.

The How and the Why plays through March 20 at the New Century Theatre.

Basil Considine