REVIEW: The How and the Why

Was it worth it?

Zelda, an award-winning evolutionary biologist for her work on the ‘grandmother hypothesis’ (which suggests that grandmothers improve their grandchildren’s initial chances of survival, hence giving a reason for grandmothers’ survival past menopause), meets her daughter Rachel, a PhD student in the same field with a new hypothesis on the reason for female menstruation (as a defense against the toxicity of sperm), for the first time in The How and the Why. As they discuss their ideas, as they share with each other their past experiences, this question of worth, in a variety of ways, becomes a focal point.

Is love worth it? Zelda, direct as ever, says it’s just stress. What does it feel like? she asks Rachel at one point. As a scientist in and out, this question is one I think about often. But despite the question, it becomes clear Zelda loves deeply, and, I think, understands the sentiment more fully than Rachel, who believes that when you love someone you always put them first but hasn’t quite figured out yet how to do that while maintaining one’s own self-worth.

This juxtaposition of Zelda and Rachel is an interesting one, of maturity and youth, levelheadedness and emotional volatility, professionally experienced and just beginning a career. I think that the overall result of this is that everyone can relate to one of the two women; the downside is that because of the play’s context, Rachel was usually the one learning, not providing the answers. Zelda, as mentioned, provides answers and advice that Rachel, with the hotheadedness of youth, freely disregards. I enjoyed Zelda’s character very much, partly because it mirrored my own: scientific and logical, she encourages Rachel to pursue her hypothesis even though it ostensibly contradicts Zelda’s own.

It was impressive that this play was so accurate with its scientific details – Is it worth it? comes up again as Zelda and Rachel discuss whether the benefits in their theories (cleaning out the uterus, for example) outweigh the risks (expending energy on creating a new uterine lining every month). Yet somehow the play still had so much time to delve into its characters’ personal issues. It is a rare breed of artwork that manages to give equal weight to both science and people, and Sarah Treem, the playwright, managed this extraordinarily well.

I thought a lot during the play about how resilient women are. Towards the end, Zelda has just revealed some very personal details and is, naturally, somewhat shaken up as a result. However, Rachel then begins to get anxious about something, so Zelda composes herself and puts her armor back to help Rachel. I see this tendency in real life, in the women around me and in myself, to make ourselves available for those we love even when we are facing our own difficulties. Similarly, we don’t let our difficulties break us; we always find a way to bend with them and then move forward. Whether it’s a less-than-perfect presentation or that messy thing called love, Rachel and Zelda do the same, emerging as stronger scientists and more complex people as a result.

Was it worth it? Some days yes; some days no.

Neha Srinivasan

I'm a landscape architecture master's student who's doing her best not to loathe her design software. When I'm not designing (what a broad word), I'm probably reading, listening to music, dancing Brazilian Zouk, or talking to my houseplants.

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