MvVO Art Launches AD ART SHOW

Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem Never Comes Close to the Answer

Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem Never Comes Close to the Answer

As I walked out of the theatre, I heard the same statement repeated over and over: “I liked the play, but I haven’t a clue what it was about.” Even the director, Jack O’Brien (LCT, The Coast of Utopia) said that when he saw the London National Theatre production of Stoppard’s 2015 play, he said, “Although it was a good evening, I didn’t understand it.”

Having been a huge Tom Stoppard fan since TravestiesThe Hard Problemasks where does consciousness lie. Is it through thought and emotion or are we like a computer? Now me, I can answer this question without even thinking twice… the soul. This, however, never gets brought up. In all honesty, the question is never answered, even though we spend what seems like two hours (90 minutes) trying to figure it out.

Chris O'Shea, Adelaide Clemens

Chris O’Shea, Adelaide Clemens Photo by Paul Kolnik

We follow Hilary (Adelaide Clemens), a psychology student wanting to win a slot at the prestigious Krohl Institute, a neuroscience research facility underwritten by hedge fund billionaire Jerry Krohl (Jon Tenney). She gets help from her colleague and casual sex partner, Spike (Chris O’Shea). After sex, he walks in on her praying for forgiveness. At the interview, she runs into her high school friend, Julia (Nina Grollman). Her lover, Ursula (Tara Summers), gives her a tip and she wins the slot to work with Leo (Robert Petkoff) instead of computer genius Amal (Eshan Bajpay). Instead, Mr. Krohl takes on Amal.

Karoline Xu, Adelaide Clemens

Karoline Xu, Adelaide Clemens Photo by Paul Kolnik

Leo’s department – which focuses on neuroscience – is failing, while the computer department that Spike now belongs to is being given more and more space and funding. Hillary is given an assistant, Bo (Karoline Xu), who dates Amal but is crushing on Hillary. Bo and Hillary finally make a break through and publish an article but it turns out Bo faked the research.

Jon Tenney, Katie Beth Hall

Jon Tenney, Katie Beth Hall
Photo by Paul Kolnik

In the meantime, Krohl has a daughter, Cathy (Katie Beth Hall), who is adopted. Her parentage ads to the dilemma.

Stoppard tries to engage us intellectually, but this play is so emotionally distant. The situations feel contrived and more importantly, we figure them out in a nano-second. Sadly, the payoff never comes.

The performances are first-rate with Adelaide Clemens truly interesting to watch. Mr. Tenney plays sophisticated evil well, as does Mr. O’Shea. We wonder why Hilary would ever sleep with him. He must be really good in bed.

O’Brien’s direction adds nothing to the text. David Rockwell’s set, Catherine Zuber’s costumes – which easily come on and off – Japhy Weideman’s lights, and Bob James’s original piano music gives us the world in which we all are searching.

Maybe if The Hard Problem got spiritual, we would have understood its meaning.

The Hard Problem: Lincoln Center Theater (Mitzi E. Newhouse), until Jan. 6, 2019.


Off Broadway

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email:

More in Off Broadway

Theatre News: Angela Lansbury, The Karate Kid, Lempicka, Girl From North Country, Cathy Maguire and Night Of AThousand Judys

Suzanna BowlingMay 25, 2022

Fraver by Design

Lawrence HarbisonMay 23, 2022

The Drama League Awards and You Are There

Genevieve Rafter KeddyMay 21, 2022

The 88th Annual Drama League Awards Winners

Genevieve Rafter KeddyMay 21, 2022

Inside Rehearsals for The Orchard Featuring Jessica Hecht, Mikhail Baryshnikov & More

Genevieve Rafter KeddyMay 20, 2022

Theatre News: Naked Theatre, HYPROV:Improv Under Hypnosis, Oratorio for Living Things, The Shubert Foundation’s 2022 High School Theatre Festival and Are You There?

Suzanna BowlingMay 20, 2022

Theatre News: Parade, Tony Awards, Amas Musical Theatre, Vineyard Theatre, Fountain of You and A Burning Church

Suzanna BowlingMay 18, 2022

The 2021-2022 Outer Critics Circle Award Winners

Suzanna BowlingMay 17, 2022

World Premiere oF Frank Wildhorn’s New Musical Your Lie in April Opens in Tokyo

Suzanna BowlingMay 17, 2022