Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Hard Problem
Studio Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family

Kyle Cameron and Tessa Klein
Photo by Teresa Wood
Playwright Tom Stoppard has a fascination for the discrepancies between how things should happen—the certainties of mathematical formulas or biological rules, for example—and how, through the vagaries of human experience, they actually do happen. His play The Hard Problem, now at Studio Theatre in Washington, examines this paradox in psychological, neurological and financial terms—and if the result isn't as brilliant a literary exercise as his earlier Arcadia, it's still worth the effort. (This play runs an hour and 45 minutes without intermission, a mere blip compared to some of Stoppard's earlier epics.)

Director Matt Torney has staged the work with crisp, sharp edges as one scene gives way to the next; similarly, Debra Booth's set design is modular and rather austere as it moves from a bedroom to an office to the scene of an informal dinner party. The central figure is Hilary (Tessa Klein), a psychology researcher searching for the roots of consciousness—the "hard problem" of the title. Hilary debates the issue with her tutor, Spike (Kyle Cameron), through questions of cooperation or self-interest, whether people's behaviors are always (knowingly or not) self-serving, and why people act in "moral" ways toward each other.

The second level of Stoppard's riddle is that Hilary wants a job at the Krohl Institute for Brain Science, underwritten by a hedge fund millionaire (David Andrew MacDonald) as a way of sharing his wealth. This allows for a bit of discussion over how a hedge fund works and, again, whether its benefits extend beyond the partners in the fund.

Klein anchors a strong acting ensemble as she shows the contradictions in her own character. (Hilary is a scientist who prays and believes in God, to Spike's surprise, and she has made some decisions in the past that continue to haunt her.) Cameron's portrayal of offhanded condescension, Martin Giles as a well-meaning if slightly scattered researcher, and seventh-grader Katie Beth Hall are other standouts. Sarah Cubbage has designed unobtrusive yet character-defining costumes ranging from yoga and tennis outfits to nightgowns.

Studio Theatre
The Hard Problem
January 11th, 2017 – February 19th, 2017
By Tom Stoppard
Spike: Kyle Cameron
Hilary: Tessa Klein
Amal: Shravan Amin
Leo: Martin Giles
Julia: Emily Kester
Ursula: Joy Jones
Jerry: David Andrew MacDonald
Cathy: Katie Beth Hall
Bo: Nancy Sun
Elaine: Nancy Robinette
Directed by Matt Torney
Metheny Theatre at The Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-332-3300 or

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