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Menopause and menstruation: Female scientists spar in 'powerful' Coquitlam play

"The How and The Why" is directed and produced by Coquitlam's Tanya Mathivanan.
Actors Annie Arbuckle (Rachel, at left) and Bronwen Smith (Zelda, at right) take opposing sides in "The How and the Why," a play that runs April 11 to 15, 2023, at Coquitlam's Evergreen Cultural Centre.

What happens when you put two female scientists in the same room, each with strong — but opposing — views about biology and evolution?

That's the basis of The How and The Why, a play being staged at the Evergreen Cultural Centre in April by Coquitlam's Tanya Mathivanan of Aenigma Theatre.

Mathivanan, who also directs and produces the show, said the production at the Coquitlam venue was cancelled twice during the COVID-19 pandemic due to physical distancing restrictions; however, it’s finally being mounted locally — and with the same actors as in the 2018 run in Vancouver.

Bronwen Smith, who earned a Jessie Richardson Award nomination for best actress (small theatre) for portraying Zelda, is back along with Annie Arbuckle as Rachel.

Mathivanan told the Tri-City News it's been four-and-a-half years since the play premiered on the west coast and she wanted her hometown crowd to see it "because this is a pretty special and powerful play that I feel speaks to everybody."

"I really enjoyed the complexity of the script, and especially how you have two very intelligent characters, who are women, talking about science. They both come from different lived experiences."

Written by Sarah Treem, The How and the Why centres on a first meeting between veteran biologist Zelda and Rachel, who is just starting her career.

Zelda is lauded for her grandmother hypothesis that aims to explain why menopause exists in women, while Rachel challenges the elder’s views on menstruation.

The play refers to the work of Margie Profet, a scientist who believed that menstruation clears the body of toxins.

Mathivanan said she researched the science cited in the show before she tackled the play; however, she warned, "it’s a play from 2011. Twelve years have passed, and there have been a lot of changes in our society since then."

She added, "It's not just women who menstruate: We have non-binary and trans-gender men dealing with these same issues now. It's important to remember how far we’ve come in our evolution."

To reinforce to the audience that the play is a "historical" piece from a dozen years ago, Mathivanan uses props like flip phones and a Discman.

She said the 2018 reaction to the conversation-heavy drama "was fantastic. And that was part of my reasoning for remounting in Coquitlam because it had such strong critical and audience acclaim. People were really immersed in both sides; they wanted the show to be longer."

"I think they fell in love with both characters," she said. "They have sparring views, but there is a deep connection because personal and emotional stakes unfold between two professional women."

"In the end," Mathivanan added, "it's about our connection to each other and the sacrifices that women and under-represented communities make. It's a beautiful play about humanity."

Tickets for The How and The Why are $45/$38/$16.

The play runs at the Evergreen Cultural Centre (1205 Pinetree Way) from April 11 to 15.

For more information or to purchase tickets, you can go to the Coquitlam facility's website or call the box office at 604-927-6555.