Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family
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 consciousnessthe "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.