|Chrisopher Daftsios (left), Lisa Ramirez, Elissa Beth Stebbins and Jeffrey Brian Adams in "Nan and the Lower Body." (Photo by Alessandra Mello)|
Dr. George Papanicolaou, aka Dr. Pap, developed the Pap smear, which can easily detect cervical cancer, thus saving untold numbers of women from this disease, which can be fatal if not treated.
Playwright Jessica Dickey focuses on him in her “Nan and the Lower Body,” being given its world premiere by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
Nan is Nan Day, the playwright’s grandmother, a cytologist who briefly worked with Dr. Pap in his lab at Cornell University in upstate New York in 1952.
As the play opens, Dr. Pap (Christopher Daftsios) is lecturing before a closed curtain. Speaking with a heavy Greek accent, he’s difficult to understand.
He also comes across as bombastic and arrogant, characteristics that continue throughout much of the play. Nevertheless in his lecture and at other times he shows respect and reverence for women.
His new assistant, Nan (Elissa Beth Stebbins), shares his views, but she’s more subdued. However, she later reveals more complexities and exhibits some troublesome mobility issues.
Dr. Pap is married to Mache (Lisa Ramirez), who also speaks with a Greek accent. Her character isn’t as fully developed as the other three are.
Nan’s husband is Ted (Jeffrey Brian Adams), a minister who says he wants women to enjoy equal rights with men. However, he later accepts a new job at another parish without consulting with Nan yet expecting her to move with him.
Although the play’s theme is important and timely, especially since the overturning of Roe v. Wade and limitations on women’s health choices, it’s talky and often slow. That’s due in part to the play itself and to director Giovanna Sardelli.
Sardelli, who’s TheatreWorks’ artistic associate and director of new works, knew the play well because it was part of the company’s New Works Festival in 2019. It was in its developmental stage then, but it still needs some refinement now.
On the other hand, Nina Ball’s scenic design deserves special note. When the curtain opens after Dr. Pap’s lecture, it reveals his lab in great detail.
Later, when the action shifts to a dinner for the Days at Dr. Pap’s home, the lab set splits in half and a comfortably furnished living/dining room moves downstage. The routine is reversed when the action returns to the lab.
Other designers are Cathleen Edwards for costumes, Pamila Z. Gray for lighting and Jane Shaw for sound.
Running about an hour and 35 minutes with no intermission, “Nan and the Lower Body” will continue through Aug. 7 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.
For tickets and information call (877) 662-8978 or visit www.theatreworks.org.