Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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Review: "The How and the Why"

The robust InterAct Theatre Company production of Sarah Treem's "The How and the Why," at the Adrienne Theatre, tells the story of two women scientists, each on opposite ends of their careers. Inquirer theatre critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: "The How and the Why"

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Janis Dardaris (left) and Victoria Frings in InterAct Theatre Company's "The How and the Why."

By Howard Shapiro

In The How and the Why, two women meet, discover they are both (of all things) evolutionary biologists -- at the opposite ends of their careers -- and enter into a dialogue that reveals as much about their present identities as it does about their pasts.

The How and the Why, robust and real in performances by Janis Dardaris and Victoria Frings, opened Wednesday night in a production by InterAct Theatre Company. The play, a two-scene piece with an intermission, was originally staged earlier this year at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre and is written by Sarah Treem, the writer and producer of HBO’s In Treatment.

It’s a smart look — the dialogue is especially taut and revealing -- at these two woman, one with a stellar career on bright automatic pilot, the other with a career that may become stellar if she doesn’t snuff out the pilot light she needs to illuminate her talent.

Dardaris, a veteran Philadelphia actor, plays the tough, somewhat aloof, seen-it-all, heard-it-all scientist whose evolutionary theory, developed at age 28, has made her a heavyweight in her field. Frings -- a young veteran of Shakespeare in Clark Park productions whose credits extend to stages at the Arden, People’s Light and Wilma -- is the young scientist whose arrogance hints at a new age in theory, or maybe pinpoints an iffy confidence in herself.

Together, Dardaris and Frings bring out the strongest points of The How and the Why, on the surface a reference to notions about the scientific quest held by the late evolutionary biologist and all-around Renaissance man Ernst Mayr. In Dardaris’ face and body language, you discern the power of wisdom that can come only through experience. In Frings’ impulsiveness and quick-changing emotion, you sense the impetuousness of someone on the verge of something big, without a clue as to what that may mean for her life.

The play holds much more than a simple young/old juxtaposition to provide its edge, and I won’t spoil it by saying any more. The staging is by InterAct’s producing artistic director, Seth Rozin, who draws from his two performers notably unswerving character interpretations. And the production sports two very different, meticulously designed sets by Meghan Jones: one, the older scientist’s well-worn office, the other, a college bar with just the right hint of tackiness.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at Hear his reviews at the Classical Network,

The How and the Why: Presented by InterAct Theatre Company at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St., through Nov. 13. Tickets: $28-$35. Informaion: 215-568-8079 or

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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