Annie Arbuckle and Bronwen Smith in the Aenigma Theatre production of The How and The Why.
Annie Arbuckle and Bronwen Smith in the Aenigma Theatre production of The How and The Why.

Theories about why women menstruate may sound like an unusual foundation on which to build a theatrical story, but it becomes the base for Sarah Treem’s The How and the Why.

According to director Tanya Mathivanan though, it is much more than a simple intellectual debate about menstruation.

“It’s about what it’s like to be a woman, a working woman in a male dominated field such as science,” she says.

The How and the Why is the story of two evolutionary biologists, each with their own theories as to why women menstruate. Armed with a new radical theory, grad student Rachel meets with veteran scientist Zelda, who has been a pioneer in this field. As the two women spar over their contrary views, their conversation turns personal.

“Secrets get unraveled and it turns to views on feminism, women specifically in science, and what it’s like for women to have careers as well,” explains Mathivanan.

It is a play Mathivanan sees as both revolutionary and current.

"You don't get to often see just two women on stage for two hours talking about feminism and science and topics like menstruation and love and family and men even." - Tanya Mathivanan
“You don’t get to often see just two women on stage for two hours talking about feminism and science and topics like menstruation and love and family and men even.” – Tanya Mathivanan

“It’s funny that in 2018 it is still a topic people are ashamed about, and try to avoid talking about in public,” she says. “But it is also very timely, especially with what’s going on down in the States when it comes to women and careers, particularly in science.”

Despite its taboo subject matter, Mathivanan was never worried its subject matter might turn audiences away.

“It’s also about love and family, and what it’s like to be a working woman in a male dominated field,” she says.

Mathivanan is equally unconcerned about alienating the men in the audience.

“It’s about what women face, but it’s also about what men might not know that women face in their careers, in life, and in the decisions and choices women have to make that men often don’t have to make,” she says.

Calling it a beautiful work, Mathivanan is excited to present it to local audiences.

“You don’t get to often see just two women on stage for two hours talking about feminism and science, and topics like menstruation, love, family and men even,” she says. “It mixes in the intellectualism with the visceral responses as well. Plus, I have two absolutely brilliant actresses working on the play, which I’m very grateful for.

The How and the Why runs at Studio 1398 on Granville Island from November 13 through November 17. Visit aenigmatheatre.com for tickets and information.