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McCormick Gears Up for Fall Scientific Play 'The How and the Why'

New Play Examining Gender and Evolution Begins at McCormick Sept. 27

If her theory is correct, a graduate student might single-handedly unravel the career of a respected professor. Whose side will the scientific community take? 

The How and the Why — a play by Sarah Treem about two female evolutionary biologists at opposite ends of their careers — will have its Chicago-area premiere this fall at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering. A few weeks later, QED, a production originally staged at McCormick in 2010, will be remounted by theatre4humanity at Chicago’s Collaboraction Theatre.

Having premiered in January 2011 at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., The How and the Why tells the story of Zelda, a Harvard professor, and Rachel, an NYU grad student. The two women are connected by their competing evolutionary theories about the female body, but their relationship actually goes far deeper, as the audience learns throughout the course of the play.

The How and the Why will be presented as part of ETOPiA: Engineering Transdisciplinary Outreach Project in the Arts, an outreach initiative that seeks to inspire cross-disciplinary dialogue about the role of science and technology in society.

The production, ETOPiA’s fifth, features two professional Chicago actors: Peggy Roeder, a four-time Joseph Jefferson Award-winner whose credits include productions at Steppenwolf, the Goodman Theatre, and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, as Zelda; and Brenda Barrie, who has earned Jeff Award nominations for best actress, and who has appeared on stages at Steppenwolf, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and American Theatre Company, as Rachel.

Maureen Payne-Hahner, an ensemble member at Chicago’s Gift Theatre and three-time ETOPiA director, will direct.

“ETOPiA is entering a new phase in its development,” said Matthew Grayson, the producer of the ETOPiA initiative and assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at McCormick. “Our annual performances in Northwestern’s Tech Institute have now earned a reputation among professional performers and directors in the Chicago area. As a result, this year we have attracted yet another phenomenal cast and production team to present a new play which delves into the hearts of the human beings who create science.”

“Written by the young up-and-coming playwright Sarah Treem, this play shows beautifully how the lives of scientists are inextricably linked to their passion for science, and highlights the role of women in science with an all-female cast of characters studying evolutionary biology,” Grayson added.

The How and the Why will run from Sept. 27 to Oct. 14. Performances will begin at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, on the Evanston campus. All ETOPiA performances are open to the public and free of charge, though reservations are strongly recommended. For more information, visit

“The second landmark development for ETOPiA is that our productions are starting to transition from the Tech Institute to the professional Chicago stage,” said Grayson. “Our extremely successful 2010 production of QED starring Rob Riley as Richard Feynman, one of the best-loved physicists in the world, is being picked up by the production troupe theatre4humanity and remounted at Chicago’s Collaboraction Theatre later in October. By serving as an incubator for Chicago-area scientific theater, ETOPiA is spreading science and engineering outreach to a far wider audience than can be reached from our Northwestern campus alone.” 

Theatre4humanity‘s remount of QED will run from Oct. 24 to Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Collaboraction Theatre, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., near the CTA Blue Line Damen stop, in Chicago. For more information, visit