There’s a terrific moment in Eddie Antar’s The Navigator when main character, Dave, is beginning to realize the true capabilities of his GPS system. Not only did the soothing female voice guide him to the proper exit, but she (albeit a bit cryptically) pointed him toward a great stock tip, gave him some advice on how to discipline his daughter, and – if that wasn’t enough – anticipated a huge accident and directed him off the highway in the nick of time. Not quite sure how it’s all working, Dave says “I like having answers but… how do I know what the questions are?”
And that’s really the heart of the this little gem of a play: getting the right answers to some questions? That’s good … great, even. But if you’re going to have the equivalent of a Magic Eight Ball that’s omniscient at your disposal, you need to know which questions to ask … because if you’re not being selective about the questions, you’ll be tempted to ask that voice everything. Soon you’ll find you’ve given up the very thing that make you human: choosing. Failing. Getting back up again. What The Navigator does, and does wonderfully, is show the initial seduction, the subsequent joy, and the ultimate frustration of always knowing the next decision you make is absolutely the right one no matter how crazy it sounds.
When we first meet Dave (played by Joseph Franchini) he is driving home from a job interview, freaking out. He hasn’t worked in six months and really needs the job. Moreover, he’s on the phone with his friend and stockbroker, Al (Michael Gnat) trying to come to grips with the fact that he just lost a bundle on a bad stock. ”How did this happen?” he wails. He seems to use the specious logic that just knowing why he lost all that money will somehow have it all make sense to him. Of course, this is nothing more than the desperate ramblings of a man at the end of his financial rope; knowing won’t put the money back in his pocket. But, as The Navigator proves over and over, to a man like Dave – sometimes being sure that something will work is better than understanding why it will.
Dave could be any one of us these days. A stretch of bad luck has made him tentative, given to second-guessing himself. His mind is often elsewhere … running that last bad decision over and over, or wondering how to get out from under the weight of the guilt he carries for a few decisions that have turned out really badly. These choices have stayed with him, circling his head like vultures, constantly reminding him of how devastating bad judgement can be.
Dave and his wife Lilly (Nicole Taylor) obviously love each other but the strain of being in survival-mode for so long has them foregoing the niceties. They speak to each other not so much in the shorthand of long-married couples but almost in a Morse code, so devoid of extras is it. They communicate simply to pass on pertinent information, but rarely to share thoughts or feelings. They’ve been too busy counting their pennies and worrying about the future to take the time or energy needed for repairing their marriage.
So when the pleasantly modulated voice of the Navigator (Kelly Anne Burns) begins to provide answers is it any wonder that Dave -reluctantly at first, but soon whole-heartedly- gives up his own autonomy and blindly follows the advice of the voice coming out of his dashboard? Especially when that voice leads him to money, a better relationship with his wife, and a new outlook on the road up ahead? Where once he was timid and overwhelmed he is now confident and sure. And completely reliant on his Navigator.
Initially the storyline sounds a bit gimmicky, maybe even a bit campy. But what playwright Eddie Antar has done so well is let the modern day Genie-in-a-bottle scenario unfold naturally (or as naturally as one might expect if your car suddenly started giving you the answers). Dave experiences all the moments of initial shock and doubt, he tests the boundaries, he becomes drunk with power, then inundated by the almost suffocating inability to leave his car. His Navigator has simultaneously set him free, yet made him a prisoner. Antar also creates recognizable relationships in terms of Lilly and Al – long term people who care about someone who they suddenly can’t understand anymore. Director Leslie Kincaid Burby does a strong job throughout; a few moments do play a bit like a Jerry Lewis act however Burby understands how to bring forth the touching moments as strongly as the comedic ones, delivering a snappy, heartfelt cautionary tale that plays fast and drives the point home smoothly.
Marrying all this together is Quentin Chiappetta’s almost unbelievable sound design which elevates this play to a whole other level. Not merely random whirrs and click, Chiapetta has created an entire arsenal of dial tones, car noises and ambient transitions which almost become a fifth character of the play.
The biggest credit goes, however, to the actress who portrays the title character – The Navigator herself. Crisply written by Antar, Kelly Anne Burns brings a wry note of humanity to an ostensibly mechanical object while still maintaining an overall sleek, steely automated exterior. While she does very little actual interaction with Franchini there is no denying that the two actors play well off each other; together they create a truly believable scenario of man and machine. During silent moments Burns is both inanimate and yet constantly engaged; robotic twitches in her eyes would have you swearing that she’s actually hooked up somewhere and transmitting data. She is at once subtle and magnetic; the perfect actress to embody such an eerily engaging device.
If you’re unsure where your life is headed and you’re wishing someone could just give you all the answers, set your GPS to The Navigator. Chances are, as you head out of the theatre later that night, you’ll think twice before turning your phone back on.
~~~THE NAVIGATOR by Eddie Antar directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby . Main Stage Theater 312 West 36th Street 4th Floor East (between 8th and 9th Avenues) New York, NY . February 9 thru March 3, 2012 Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8pm Sundays at 3pm Monday Feb. 20 at 8pm Click Here for Reservations: www.workshoptheater.org Admission: $18; $15 Students & Seniors