Monday, July 18, 2022

Nan and The Lower Body: ★ ★ BANG

Vagina vagina, vagina. There, I said it.

Before seeing the World Premiere of Jessica Dickey's "Nan and the Lower Body," we must understand the story is pure fiction. Dickey's real-life grandmother, Nan Day, was in fact a scientific researcher who was instrumental in discovering the then-unknown disease of Multiple Sclerosis. Our story, however, is an imagined working relationship between Day and Doctor George Papanicolau, the inventor of the Pap smear, which has saved the lives of countless thousands of women since the early 1950s, by giving them a chance at early detection of cervical cancer.

Dr. Pap, however, as far as anyone knows, never worked with Nan Day, so the story presented here, of a shy researcher, her clueless minister fianceé, the fabulously eccentric Doctor himself and his disappointed wife -- might be based on reality or it might not be.

If I hadn't read about this in the Promo notes, would it have mattered? Maybe not. The Doctor (Christopher Daftsios) is bombastic and quite likeable, perhaps like the real Dr. Pap, and Nan (Elissa Beth Stebbins) is sharp but conflicted, perhaps like the real Nan Day, and her fianceé Ted (Jeffrey Brian Adams) is a clueless shmo, as perhaps he was. But if he was that obtuse,  would this ambitious, rural minister really have such modern beliefs about women's equality? More to the point, would someone like Nan fall for this guy? It's an unexplained mystery. 

And how could a researcher arrive at her brand-new job, fall over with an obvious ailment we know we're going to find out about sooner or later, and within ten minutes have this dedicated doctor 
ready to turn his life's research over to her? It is all entertaining, but on a soap-opera level. It never feels real.

The one thing that is definitely true is that most men and women are uncomfortable with using the word "vagina." There are several very entertaining bits as we watch first Nan and then Ted squirm over it. The scene where the doctor expalins to Ted what the stirrups in his office are used for is a classic. He wants to get out of there as soon as possible, and we kind of do too.

Lisa Ramirez's Mache, Dr. Pap's wife, was the character we identified with best. She has been the doctor's first donor, his best friend and companion since they were youngsters in Greece. Now, she is older. Nothing is the same. And Dr. Pap has found a new, younger researcher.


The San Francisco Theatre Blog grants Jessica Dickey's "Nan and the Lower Body" Two Stars with a Bangle of Praise. The Bangle is for Nina Ball's marvelous stage presentation. The show is a visual dream for an audience. As a World Premiere, "Nan" is still a youngster. The production team at Theatreworks will certainly close some obvious holes, mostly on a personal level. We know that the writer loved her grandmother, but we want to feel the same about the characters in her play. We would love to feel love conquers all.

"Nan and the Lower Body"
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 7, 2022


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