How and why, then and now

We laugh, we cry, we are born, we die,
Who will riddle me the how and the why?

How you are you? Why I am I?
Who will riddle me the how and the why?
The world is somewhat; it goes on somehow;
But what is the meaning of then and now!

These excerpts from the poem “The ‘How’ and the ‘Why’” by Alfred Lord Tennyson speak very much to the heart of Sarah Treem’s terrifically smart play of the same name. Both Tennyson and Treem—writing more than 150 years apart—tackle many of the questions that lie within TimeLine’s mission of exploring history. What is the difference between then and now? How and why have we evolved to where we are today?

My remarkable colleague Janet Ulrich Brooks brought this play to us, with a passion unlike any I’ve seen in the 10 years I’ve known her. And if you’ve witnessed Janet on stage in such TimeLine shows as 33 Variations, All My Sons, Not Enough Air, Lillian and more, you know that Janet is not someone who lacks passion! Hearing Janet talk about the play and then having our entire Company read it, we saw how and why the play sparked her intense interest.

Elizabeth Ledo (left) and Janet Ulrich Brooks in "The How and the Why."
Elizabeth Ledo (left) and Janet Ulrich Brooks in “The How and the Why.”

In a seemingly simple format—two female scientists meeting and talking—The How and the Why probes a tremendous number of provocative issues. It delves into women’s health, genetics, adoption, balancing work and family, and the generational clash between a woman in her 50s and one in her 20s, with the younger one facing different career opportunities and challenges than the other experienced amidst the 1970s feminist movement.

It’s regrettable that one of the things notable about this play is the opportunity to watch two exceedingly smart women who are blazing trails in their field, with nary a man to be found on stage. It’s a depressingly rare thing to see in American theater, just as it’s still depressingly uncommon to find women at the helm in many professions, science and theater included.

Happily, there’s someone like Sarah Treem, who early in her career has already built a body of work in theater, TV and film that is as impressive as it is diverse. Any fan of the TV shows House of Cards, In Treatment or How To Make It In America can attest to the intelligence, daring and savvy of Sarah’s work as a writer and producer. And she has plenty more in the works, including a new play, When We Were Young And Unafraid, opening this spring at Manhattan Theatre Club, starring Cherry Jones.

I couldn’t be happier to welcome Sarah and her work to TimeLine, brought to life by Janet and the equally formidable actress Elizabeth Ledo, under the direction of Keira Fromm. I look forward to discussing with you the many, many questions that this play sparks – all the how’s and why’s that got us to this moment.

Leave a Reply