'The How and the Why': A meditation on experience and youth

Posted: October 28, 2011

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 women, 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 when she was 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 early-career 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 led 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.

The How and the Why

Presented by InterAct Theatre Company at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St., through Nov. 13. Tickets: $28-$35. Information: 215-568-8079 or www.interacttheatre.org.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.

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