The Pantyhose Grid
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
August 12, 2008
The Pantyhose Grid is FAST. With a run time of just an hour, this play by Cynthia Frank features characters who are fast talkers and fast thinkers. There are a lot of ancient literature allusions and big concepts that the actors move through very quickly. It also skids to a halt so suddenly I was too stunned to clap, in utter disbelief that they had ended the show before I'd even figured out what was going on in the last scene.
Nevertheless, I will try to explain what I think I saw as it blew by. The first chunk of the play is with Bill, Felicia, and Craig in Bill's apartment. I gathered that Felicia and Bill are both tenured, mid-career, research professors at Columbia and that Craig is Bill's graduate assistant or maybe an adjunct under his wing. According to the official FringeNYC show description Bill is a "religion professor" but in the play he was referred to as a... um... Neoplatonist? (I think that's what they said) and Felicia is an expert on Jane Austen. All three are old friends, sex-obsessed, and have epic potty mouths, which begets most of the ironic humor in the play. So if you think esoteric academic literature discussions peppered with the F-bomb are hilarious, then this show is for you!
About 20 minutes into the play, Felicia, in a manic bipolar fit, reveals that she has gained possession of a diary that was written by none other than Jane Austen. She hasn't shown it to anyone else before but begins reading it with Bill to get his help in analyzing it. Here we start going back and forth between Bill's apartment and Jane Austen's time to get scenes with her and others in her life to illustrate the stories in her diary. For me these were the most enjoyable scenes in the play. Both the writing and the performances are more relaxed and easy to follow. Also Lauren Beth Ferebee is lovely and interesting as Jane. I also liked the scenes Bill and Felicity had adjacent to these scenes from the diary. During them I began to understand the deep intellectual friendship and admiration between these two scholars—a relationship dynamic you don't see every day on stage. It was fun seeing them spark their brilliant minds off each other as they tried to figure out what the diary revealed about Austen.
I'd explain the significance of the title of the show, but although the Pantyhose Grid concept is an important revelation to the characters, I confess I didn't really get it. No fear of me giving away the ending either in this review, since I'm only about 70% sure I have that (partially) figured out. Perhaps if you move in circles of uber-educated literati this show is more accessible. Certainly the audience around me laughed a lot and seemed to really enjoy it. Me, well, it made me feel like I should spend less time in theatres and more time at the library.