The How and the Why at Unison

Science geeks, feminists, post-feminists and anybody who ever either was or had a mother or a daughter should find something to pique their interest in Sarah Treem’s thought-provoking new two-woman play The How and the Why. It will be presented in Readers’ Theater format by Mohonk Mountain Stage this weekend at the Unison Arts & Learning Center in New Paltz.

Treem is probably best-known for her work as a television writer/producer, having copped a Best New Series award from the Writers’ Guild of America for her work on HBO’s psychotherapy drama In Treatment. Her dramatic premise for The How and the Why draws on some intriguing revisionist ideas about human evolution currently being promulgated (and stirring controversy) by scientists in the field, popularized by Natalie Angier in her 1999 book Women: An Intimate Geography.

One of the characters in the play, professor Zelda Kahn, is an established evolutionary biologist who backs the so-called “grandmother hypothesis,” which attributes huge leaps in the survival potential and cultural advancement of Homo sapiens to the contributions of post-menopausal females. The other protagonist, Rachel Hardeman, is an aspiring scientist, a generation younger than Zelda, who has come up with an equally radical evolutionary explanation for why females of species high on the evolutionary scale menstruate.


Rachel comes to Zelda seeking help in getting her hypothesis taken seriously enough by male academics to enable her to present it at a prestigious conference. The intellectual sparring between the two quickly evolves into something deeper and more emotional, for this “professional” encounter also happens to be the first meeting between a girl given up for adoption and her biological mother.

Mercedes Ruehl starred in The How and the Why’s 2011 premiere at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, and a new production at Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Point in Rockland County is currently getting rave notices. The New York Times called the play “a smart, densely textured work about men and women, love and conflict, genes and destiny.” The Mohonk Mountain Stage production will feature Unison’s new director Christine Crawfis and Janet Nurre.

The Mohonk Mountain Stage Readers’ Theater will present Sarah Treem’s The How and the Why at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, October 19 and 20 at Unison Arts, located at 68 Mountain Rest Road just west of New Paltz. Ticket prices are $12 for Unison members, $16 for non-members reserved in advance and $2 more at the door. Students get in for half-price. To order, call (845) 255-1559 or visit