Kelly Anne Burns and Joseph Franchini
(Photo credit: Gerry Goldstein)
Of course there’s a good chance that it’s just wishful thinking, but maybe it’s Eddie Antar’s turn. Last season saw the emergence of Stephen Adly Guirgis, after years of his plays everywhere but Broadway, finally hitting the dream target with his overwrought hit, The Motherf*%er With the Hat. This year, after much scanning of inevitable Wannabes and Maybes, a couple of likely candidates for expensive residencies on the Great White Way seem to have shown their pretty heads at the same time and one of them is The Navigator.
Mind you, this new hopeful, now Off Broadway, is unfinished; a play doctor could put it on top if he were wont to do. But so much unfinished show business has become the norm, so many shows are rushed to ultimate venues before their time, that we’ve loosened the belts on our standards. Producers, critics, audiences, all, and rely on those frequent extravagant hoopla ads to whet our urges for the next hottie of a show. Too bad. It’s a terrible waste of potentially good works and good runs, which I sincerely hope will not be the fate of The Navigator.
Because what’s there is damned good, and playwright Antar shows every sign of being able to carry his 75 minute Tickler into a fuller evening Intriguer. And director Leslie Kincaid Burby, with cunning flair, has propelled Antar’s teasingly intriguing conceit into an entirely stage worthy endeavor with the leanest of stagings and the tightest of focuses. And darned, if it doesn’t turn out to be the smartest of choices because it stems organically from Antar’s cosmic comic joke: that those beguiling electronic devices have all but magical powers to run our lives as they see fit.
Dave (the remarkable Joseph Franchini) is driving home from one more desperate job interview hours away from where he lives with his wife and children in a house about to be yanked away because he can’t pay the bills. He’s relying on his GPS to get him home and “she”, yes, “she” (delicious Kelly Anne Burns) is doing so, announcing his next turn, his next move, his next position, as well as the odd turn of phrase or extra wording that seems to come out of nowhere and mean nothing to Dave. At first. Until “she”, his GPS unit, also plugs into his home or his broker’s office at his command. And, eerily, the odd mysterious words make sudden hard sense. Of course, he is loath to trust “her”, “she’s” just another smart gadget to use, but when “she” saves him from a couple of hair raising traffic squeakers, Dave is convinced: She. Knows. What. She’s. Doing.
So that when she gives him a cryptic order: “Buy!” or “Sell!” as they are driving, Dave calls his broker (Michael Gnat) who manages his life savings, girds up his seat belted loins and plunges, on her advisements against ordinary common sense, against all reason. To resounding success! So that when his darling 15 year old angel daughter is caught smoking pot in school, his distraught wife, Lilly (Nicole Taylor) asks him for his guidance as a parent and the omniscient GPS says, “Ground! Ground!” even before Lilly’s question, Dave unhesitatingly tells his wife to ground their otherwise angel daughter.
Later, when his GPS advises him to sell their house that they’ve hung onto with their fingernails by abasing themselves to his father-in –law and move into a condo in the South Bronx, against Lilly’s remonstrance, Dave sells. They move. He’s mostly in his car these days with his soul mate of an oracle, his GPS Navigator, at his side, confident, adamant, if not very logical when forced to explain. He cannot, dare not tell where his life choices are coming from, even his choices for dinner: “Chicken!”, when Lilly asks him what he wants for dinner when he gets home. The Navigator GPS even tells him to say to Lilly, “I love you”. He does. Dave buys it all. After all, he’s always right. He’s got money. He’s got a new, terrific job. He’s way ahead with his Booky. But he’s got no will of his own.
Director Burby nails the staging. Down front, in their car seats, Dave, his every emotion visible, and The Navigator, only an occasional twitch disturbing her cool, Olympian impassivity. Behind them in fully furnished cut outs (designed by Jen Varbalow) which light up in the blackened void of the backdrop only when connected by the GPS: Al, in his broker’s office, Lilly in Dave and Lilly’s kitchen alcove. This active/passive staging is marvelously persuasive. What’s going to happen next? What will Dave do? What can Dave do? What must Dave do? And what will “she”, the GPS allow? I admired Nicole Taylor, Michael Gnat, Kelly Anne Burns but especially Joseph Franchini. He’s wonderful. Catch them if you can. Now. And later.
The Navigator (through March 3)
Workshop Theater Company, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or www.Ovationtix.com