Might of 'The Navigator'

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While the Philip K. Dicks and Isaac Asimovs of the world would have us fearing the rise of our prevalent gadgets, Eddie Antar's clever, well-executed The Navigator will have us believe that the ends more than justify the machines.

Dave (Joseph Franchini) is a card-holding member of our current age of anxiety. Unemployed and having just lost even more on a bad stock, Dave is nearing the end of his emotional rope, and his harried wife Lilly (Nicole Taylor) doesn't alleviate any of his concerns. What he really needs is a life whisperer, someone with all the answers to help him get out of his rut.

And that's exactly what Dave finds when driving back home to Lilly in the form of his car's GPS navigator (brought to life in the form of Kelly Anne Burns). This navigator's instructions quickly move beyond calculating directions. First, she is aware of other cars on the road, and instructs him to avoid an eventual collision. Then she starts dispensing greater advice, covering everything from dinner plans to investment tips. Dave may physically be in the driver's seat, but his navigator is the one in control, giving him the answers he needs until this damaged man gets the confidence he sorely needs to rejoin the land of the living.

Credit director Leslie Kincaid Burby with steering Antar's sweet play on the side of the humorous, merely dipping Navigator in pathos where others might have given it a full bath. Of course, Burby has had time to nurture this production, which first incubated as part of WorkShop Theater's Plays In Production series in 2010 (Burby won a New York Innovative Theater Award for Best Director from that run) and stands as a testament to not allowing the budget's size determine the quality of a show. This is true onstage, thanks to the comic work done by Franchini, Taylor and Michael Gnat in a small role, and to Burns' perfectly modulated speech pattern as the navigation system, emotion-free and completely authoritarian. And it's also true behind the scenes, thanks to Quentin Chiappetta's detailed sound design, which replicates the many car and street noises necessary to create the image of Dave's car journeying on the lonely road. Make no bones about it: this is one show that knows exactly where it is going.

The Navigator

Through Mar. 3, WorkShop Mainstage Theater, 312 W. 36th St., 4th Fl., www.workshoptheater.org; $18, $15 for seniors and students.

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