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The Hard Problem

From 31 critic and 109 member reviews
Members say: Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Clever, Great acting

About the show

LCT presents Tom Stoppard's first new play in ten years, a witty and dramatic exploration of the "hard problem" that is human consciousness. Directed by Tony winner Jack O'Brien ("The Coast of Utopia.") More…

"The Hard Problem" introduces a young woman, Hilary, a psychology student who is newly employed as a research assistant at a neuroscience think-tank financed by a hedge-fund billionaire. He believes the brain and the ability to map and understand it are the key to predicting financial patterns, human behavior and more. But as Hilary’s career advances she and her colleagues struggle with what scientists call ‘the hard problem’ which asks: if the brain is made of nothing but facts, what is consciousness? For Hilary the possibility of genuine altruism, without a hidden Darwinian self-interest, depends on the answer. Meanwhile she is nursing a private sorrow. She needs a miracle and prays for one every day. 

Front Row Center

"They’ve made it much clearer and accessible. Do go for the Stoppardian mind and heart journey that only he can deliver...There are miles of ideas in this 100 minute no intermission play...All these ideas revolving around the existence of God...There are layers of psychology, philosophy, science and emotional connection here to thrill the thinking theater goers mind for months of rumination.” Full Review

The Wall Street Journal

"One of the best things Stoppard’s given us...Stoppard has spun a concise piece of storytelling full of thought-provoking twists...’The Hard Problem’ tells its tale with elegant economy and a fitting regard for the role played by love in the working out of man’s fate...This is the kind of production that exists solely to serve the play, and ‘The Hard Problem’ is more than worthy of being so served.” Full Review

New York Stage Review

"Gorgeous new play...Stoppard has given us a heroine for our times...Under the robust direction of Jack O’Brien, the excellent actors mine their characters’ sensibilities and vulnerabilities for all their poignance and humor...'Miracle' is a word that comes up several times in the text; if Stoppard’s latest play doesn’t argue they occur, in the traditional sense, it leaves you feeling that some progress is inevitable—and that is, at this juncture, a small miracle in itself." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

“A barrage of ideas related to human existence raised by Stoppard is given voice by an excellent cast...Clemens is giving a performance that is among the season’s finest in the role of Hilary...What’s ultimately impressive is that despite all the talk about trying to scientifically understand the brain, a key aspect of the play comes down to human emotions and trying to do the right thing. Stoppard’s vision in this respect is movingly expressed by Hilary and her approach to life.” Full Review

Off Off Online

"There are still moments of humor in Jack O’Brien’s fascinating production of this twisty play—a brainiac’s sumptuous meal laid out for the layman...In Stoppard’s hands, the characters’ motives are always clear even when the intellectual demands on the audience are at their fiercest...As a playwright of ideas, Stoppard has no peer, and 'The Hard Problem,' while it requires listening closely, is not hard to watch." Full Review

Melinda's Malarky

“This erudite play poses theological & ethical points of view without providing definitive resolutions for enigmatic ideologies. The ‘hard problems’ are multi-pronged and the list is long...A lot of the plot does not compute...So too are many of the lofty queries Stoppard puts forth with rapid fire. Regardless, Stoppard's erudite writing does make its way into the cerebellum some of the time with intrigue & clarity...The overriding essence is a healthy pastiche of skepticism & faith.” Full Review

New York Theater

“’The Hard Problem’ launches into the mind-body debate from the get-go...O’Brien directs briskly, using a fine and large cast...O’Brien also employs a team of award-winning designers...These appeals to eye and ear seem intended to compensate for the strain on our brains...My trick for most appreciating 'The Hard Problem’ to read the script. ‘The Hard Problem,' as in many of Stoppard’s plays, works as well as dramatic literature as it does as a theatrical event.” Full Review

New York Stage Review

"The wonderful result of Stoppard’s insisting in 'The Hard Problem' that his audiences think seriously as they watch his play are the simultaneous emotional feelings he elicits in them. He allows no let-up in brain and consciousness awareness but makes certain that humanity accompanies, if not predominates, the effect...Jack O’Brien is at the helm again and does his usual sensitive job." Full Review

AM New York

“’The Hard Problem’ does not shy away from addressing a wide range of scientific and philosophical issues...Despite its cerebral and conceptual nature, the play remains firmly focused on Hilary and her personal and professional journey...'The Hard Problem' is soft, simple and sensitive. For those who find Stoppard too bizarre at times, 'The Hard Problem' achieves an ideal balance of intellect and heart...O’Brien provides a well-balanced, handsome and engaging production.” Full Review


"But Hilary's hardest problem is forgiving herself (and perhaps everyone involved) for giving up her daughter, Catherine, for adoption when Hilary was only 15. Did she do the right thing for the right motives? Did her decision have the right outcome? Does praying to God - whatever the reason - have any effect? These may not be questions that scientists, psychologists or even philosophers can fully answer, but they are the ones that matter -- not just to Hilary, but to all of us." Full Review


"If you want to exercise your body, head to the gym. To exercise your brain, I’d suggest 'The Hard Problem'...While far from his best, this is a fascinating piece of theater from the cerebral Stoppard, one that requires rapt attention at every turn as we’re asked to process a litany of complex scientific concepts...It's enough to make your head swim, but mercifully Stoppard puts a human face on all this." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

“Despite the amount of science and philosophy crammed into a short play, the tone remains light and bracing, thanks to the quality of...O’Brien’s production, buoyed by a roster of excellent performances...Its characters may sometimes come close to being mere positions in a debate, but the overall shape of the project is nonetheless beautiful." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“An episodic, fitfully absorbing, brain-teasing…dramedy…'The Hard Problem' illustrates what Stoppard's characters talk about by weaving it into the very fabric of their existence. Unfortunately, big ideas don't necessarily translate into dramatic tension…Stoppard's highbrow palaver can sometimes get a bit dense but, in general, he inserts his ideas into accessible dialogue,..with intriguing…anecdotes…His characters, while superficially life-like, are sufficiently interesting mouthpieces.” Full Review


“In the world of Stoppard, post-coital pillow talk can be a debate about human consciousness and whether or not altruism truly exists. After all, nobody said anything about ‘The Hard Problem’ was going to be easy...Clocking in at 100 minutes, ‘The Hard Problem’ may seem a bit overextended at times, but Stoppard's dialogue is sharp and challenging and O'Brien's staging has a crisp energy...In this season of giving, the topic may especially inspire some interesting post-theatre chatter." Full Review


“Tom Stoppard's ‘The Hard Problem’ is one of those cerebral exercises created to prove a point. The characters are ultimately pawns in the hands of the author. Jack O'Brien's engrossing production doesn't give you time to find answers to the necessary questions about the mind/body dilemma. This is not a play for the uninitiated; it helps if you have a background in the neurological issues being discussed. The play's cool style once again shows the author to be our most intellectual playwright.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"The ongoing debates over altruism vs. selfishness, coincidence vs. miracle, brain vs. mind take precedence over plot...O’Brien’s direction is a bit too busy for my taste. While the play never deeply engaged me, it did hold my interest. I was surprised that Ms. Clemens got a solo bow during the curtain call as her performance, while quite competent, did not reach star level." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Stylistically on the choppy side, 'The Hard Problem' seems to be aiming for, but does not quite reach the perfect blend of intellect and emotions that Stoppard achieved with his masterful 'Arcadia.' Nevertheless, the play's 85 minutes are well spent in parsing one of the great puzzles of all time...Director O'Brien keeps the play's many transitions of time and locale from becoming too confusing through the use of swiftly changing sets carried in by a well-oiled ensemble." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"With the slamming of the book, 'The Hard Problem' begins to weave and dodge its way through the cerebral pathways of the brain and the blood stream of our collective intellectual abstract flesh...Directed strongly by the precise Jack O’Brien, this sexy slice of intellectualism and combative debate floats high in the realm of smart talk, but gets lost somewhere in the overall arch of meaning and underlying connection." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Its ideas are, as ever, rich and varied, while its dramatic scope is relatively modest. And while it may seem paradoxical, I think a sparer production—and one that remained a little less sentimental for a little longer—would have moved me more. O’Brien is gamely feelings-forward in his approach to the play, but he’s making it more treacly than it need be...Still, scene to scene, Stoppard’s writing feels alive and engaging as ever." Full Review

Daily Beast

"The characters feel like conveniently placed echo-chambers and spokespeople, rather than people believably living within these big ideas and their effects. The play more plausibly illustrates the corporatization of neuroscience, and where that is leading us...Still, Stoppard studs the play’s odd dramatic cul-de-sacs and theoretical density with jokes and zinging put-downs—and at the end supplies a genuine emotional punch." Full Review

Stage Left

"While the play remains intellectually engaging throughout, these plot threads do not weave a recognizable garment. Instead, there is plenty of lively discourse about the nature of human behavior and belief, with Mr. Stoppard’s own thesis concealed by the contradicting victories of his characters’ opposing arguments. The hard problem is too hard to solve in one play, but the feast of ideas presented here is nonetheless nourishing.” Full Review

Fordham Observer

"While O’Brien’s impressionistic staging could walk any audience member down from the high cliffs of academic unrest, it’s clear that foregrounding Hilary’s fight to find her lost daughter was a conscious choice...Placing Hilary’s bleeding heart (acted with excellence throughout this show by Clemens) in front of an audience otherwise lost in the brambles of neuroscientific debate is a choice that has paid off well....This is an exhausting play." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“While Stoppard has provided his usual acres of witty dialogue and arguments that crackle, for once you can catch him rigging the game...’The Hard Problem’ is so packed with contrivances...After a few scenes, it becomes pretty obvious that Stoppard is practicing his own form of game theory, and the rules feel oddly malleable. For this reason, and because the play's argument never really advances...‘The Hard Problem never really catches intellectual or dramatic fire.” Full Review


"The play raises some of the most profound questions of our existence, yet its emotional temperature never rises above the autumn chill...Stoppard is our most intelligent living playwright, and it is a testament to his brilliance that we see his probing questions in every layer and moment of the play. 'The Hard Problem' fully engages us intellectually, but emotionally, it feels distant and contrived...It helps that the cast delivers convincingly human performances." Full Review

The New York Times

"As the characters argue and argue and argue about the essence of human behavior, the stakes seldom feel compellingly high. Abstractly, this play may be taking on the biggest concepts imaginable, yet on stage it feels disappointingly small...It is hard to avoid the impression that 'The Hard Problem' — which often feels like the work of a precocious young neophyte rather than an old master — has yet to solve itself." Full Review

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Profound

See it if You want a play that has both brains and heart and something you can really discuss with other folks. You're a Stoppard fan.

Don't see it if You don't like plays with a lot of talk and don't care to think about consciousness. You're not a Stoppard fan.

Also I loved this play. It moved swiftly and was engaging throughout--and i... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great writing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you’re eager to be challenged by Tom Stoppard’s intelligence. He’s hard to follow. He’s a puzzle. With O”Brien’s direction, the heart swells

Don't see it if You’re looking to be entertained. You won’t be. However, you’ll think deeply and squint to figure out where Stoppard’s going. Smart stuff.

Also Stoppard isn’t easy to comprehend. In the accompanying magazine even t... Read more Read less

Riveting, Must see, Intelligent, Great writing, Great acting

See it if What a refreshing and moving experience I had at this play today. Loved Stoppard's brilliant dialogue, Jack O'Brien & his four-star cast.

Don't see it if You don't like Stoppard? Give this one a try. It's one of the smartest and most satisfying plays in town. Will read the script (&I have it).

Great acting, Great staging, Thought-provoking

See it if You enjoy Tom Stoppard’s intellectual plays. Clever staging in the round facilitated by the ensemble. Lovely cast. “Relevant” and realistic.

Don't see it if You have difficulty following quickly spoken dialogue in English. Lots of serious conversations. The words fly in this play!

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great writing, Intelligent, Profound

See it if Brilliant Stoppard wordplay and dazzling exploration of consciousness as told through the story of a young psychologist, faith & philosophy

Don't see it if You can’t take a serious journey exploring the mind/body problem, morality in love & business, philosophy, faith and scientific exploration

Absorbing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Challenging, Dialectic

See it if you want a gripping play about altruism vs egoism, religion vs science, technology vs humanity, philosophy vs theory, & seeking forgiveness.

Don't see it if you're turned off by gratuitous (albeit brief) nudity; you don't like Stoppard's philosophical polemics & focus on intellect over emotion.

Interesting and engaging

See it if you like discussions on what determines human consciousness vs. unfeeling machines (great)--and like Tom Stoppard.

Don't see it if you want action and intense character development. This play is a thought piece, good enough, but not high drama or Stoppard's wittiest best

Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Great staging

See it if You’re a fan of Stoppard’s wordy ideas. Solid lively minimalist production. Choreographed staging adds energy. One very clever set.

Don't see it if You can’t follow lots of rapid fire text, or a busy continually changing set. The substance is Stoppard light.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great staging, Intelligent

See it if You like brilliant dilemma and intelligent investigation.

Don't see it if You want an easy romp of a play.

Also This is demanding theatre that challenges the audience. I saw both a P... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Great writing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if Innate or through action...what is inherently a person of merit? Stoppard uses actors for discourse & debate. Cerebral w/ cast doing best.

Don't see it if Rubik's cube. So intelligent, but if you don't live there, this will be a troublesome night out. Playwright deserves credit for this attempt

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting

See it if you like Stoppard dialogue (brilliant), great ensemble acting, interesting & provocative questions to consider during & afterwards.

Don't see it if you don't like talky plays in which there are no gun battles.

Absorbing, Great staging, Great writing, Intelligent, Clever

See it if you like excellent writing,clever staging,terrific acting.Dialogue is brilliant & witty, but also real. It discusses some serious topics.

Don't see it if predictable plot twists make you mad. This one is telegraphed from early on,but the rest of the play makes up for it.Set changes are clever

Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Cerebral

See it if if you like intellectual theater. Tom Stoppard is such a good writer, does deep research, & doesn't shy away from cerebral topics.

Don't see it if if you want fast-paced 'big' theater. if you don't want to have to follow closely & think through such an intangible topic.

Absorbing, Clever, Ambitious, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if A very intellectual look at the human conditioin- great staging and acting.

Don't see it if you like drama and action. Very sophisticated and hard to follow all of the concepts discussed

Absorbing, Ambitious, Thought-provoking

See it if You like being made to think about things you don't consider in your daily life. An excellent Stoppard, so glad he is still writing plays!

Don't see it if You like linear plot development and everything tied up in a neat bow.

Clever, Cliched, Thought-provoking, Slow, Funny

See it if You like Tom Stoppard plays. You ever took a metaphysics class. You want an exploration of consciousness and the sublime with lots of words.

Don't see it if You don't like drama as a prop or justification for explorations of thought. You don't like Tom Stoppard plays. You're easily bored.

Also After seeing this play, I want to marry Tom Stoppard, but I'm not sure... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Cerebral, Intelligent, Heavy material that requires utmost focus, Some questionable staging

See it if a fan of: Tom Stoppard’s works; immersive and intelligent writing; and/or works that seize upon you mentally, if not emotionally, too.

Don't see it if you can’t commit to an intermissionless show with an intelligent script that requires critical-thinking about self, beliefs, and the world.

Also Tom Stoppard’s genius continues with The Hard Problem, threading compl... Read more Read less

Clever, Absorbing, Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if You like to think at the theatre and after. You appreciate good writing and good acting.

Don't see it if You want theatre to be a mindless experience. You want to see a big broadway production.

Intelligent, Great staging, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Philosophical

See it if You like plays that make you think, as Tom Stoppard's work does.

Don't see it if You need something light and filled with humor.

Cerebral, Intriguing, Creatively staged

See it if A play full of ideas and talk about the psychology of consciousness and the differences between the brain and the mind are of interest

Don't see it if You find Stoppard too talky and the focus of the play on a content level does not interest you because you will hear a lot about it

Also There are some Tom Stoppard plays I really like and some that I do not... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Clever, Cerebral, Engaging

See it if You like plays about ideas, lots of ideas, we're talking the problem of human consciousness, algorithms, mapping the brain and adoption.

Don't see it if You like your plots emotional without intellectual baggage and lots of talk. You like drama about people rather than ideas.

Also I like Tom Stoppard's plays but I was hesitant about seeing this one a... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great staging, Philosophical, Stoppard-dialogue, Intelligent

See it if You like Stoppard or can forgive the artificial dialogue and lectures that typify his work.

Don't see it if If stagey staging, spokesperson characters, and coincidental plotting will irk you.

Also I’m not a Stoppard fan but liked this one more than most. I knew what ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great writing, Intelligent, Profound

See it if love Tom Stoppard. This is more accessible than his other plays. Topics that probably everyone can understand and relate to.

Don't see it if Want fluff, skip this. Need to come with your brain and pay attention.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Dizzying, Great acting, Great writing

See it if You want entertaining theater, that delves into extraordinary questions, while not forgetting to entertain. An ephemeral Adelaide Clemens.

Don't see it if You don’t want to be challenged, on questions of science and religion, nature vs nurture... Or, if you need a big show in a big theater.

Clever, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Ambitious

See it if You want to see a great play by Tom Stoppard that is blessedly short in length, incredibly thought provoking and has a great cast.

Don't see it if You hate science, you want fluffy entertainment or need a mindless night out. This show demands your full attention.

Cast & Creatives (14)