Red Lab Productions and Otar Margania have just produced The Georgian-American Theatrical Feast at Teatro Circulo, Off-off-Broadway. The festival presented readings and full productions of plays by playwrights from The Republic of Georgia. One of the plays produced was Navigator in Love, by Lasha Bugadze.
This sad, funny play is about an office worker named Rostom who’s reassigned by his company to monitor its construction sites in the provinces. He’ll be driving for considerable distances, in spite of the fact that he hasn’t driven in 10 years, and in spite of the fact that he’s not qualified for the job. What’s more, he’ll be near “conflict areas” - read “war zones”. “Remember,” he’s told, “it’s like being sent to the front lines.”
Rostom is in the habit visiting a co-worker, Clara, in her office, and his reassignment prompts him to tell her about his attraction to her. “I only like coming to work because of you,” he tells her. Clara, unfortunately, considers their relationship strictly platonic, and she rebuffs him.
What’s more, Rostom’s life was is enough to begin with. He cares for his father, a mean old fellow. “Please don’t die now,” Rostom tells him, “I got problems at work.”
And so our anti-hero finds himself alone for hours on most days as he drives the company car to the provinces, with no one to talk to but the car’s navigator - ie, the GPS. It’s the sort of aural GPS that gives commands like “Turn in 10 meters.” He talks back to the female voice resentfully, angrily. And after a while, the navigator begins to speak more than directions; she responds to what Rostom says. She develops a personality. Poor lonely Rostom falls in love with the disembodied woman. And she falls in love with him.
The navigator knows a lot about Rostom. She knows the clothes in his closet. She tells him that Clara is pregnant by Rostom’s boss in the office, but Rostom finds out that it’s not true. “Clara’s pregnancy is my invention,” the navigator finally admits, “I didn’t want you to love her, so I told a lie. I was jealous”
Rostom’s behavior deteriorates on his days in the office - he confronts Clara when he thinks the navigator's fabrication is true. He becomes hostile. His bosses notice and take him off the assignment. But he’s too much in love to give up the navigator. He drives around aimlessly. “I’ll keep you and the car,” he tells the navigator, “I’ll live in the car.”
And so we watch as Rostom’s delusion takes over his life. The navigator is such a sophisticated hallucination that she seems to have a will of her own. Like Pygmalion, his statue comes to life.
In the role of Rostom, Michael Propster carries the bulk of the play. His work is absolutely terrific. As the navigator’s behavior becomes more and more outrageous, he responds with incredulity that wanes as he habituates to each level of delusion. Nervous and animated, he’s the very picture of loneliness. We believe every step of his descent into madness.
The rest of the cast does a great job of supporting Mr. Propster. In the largest of the supporting roles, Brett Epstein plays Rostom’s office buddy, giving a truthful and funny performance.
Adam Knight directs the show with marvelous precision, subtlety and humor. He’s never shy of expression, never heavy-handed. The set - his design - consists of two desks in this small space, with Rostom center in a swivel chair when he’s driving. It’s a delicate minimalism.
Lasha Bugadze’s play starts with a scene between Rostom and his boss in an elevator. The boss, very tall, towers over the short Rostom. And Rostom, nervous to be in close proximity, alone, to a higher-up, can’t stop laughing. Right away we know that this character is not entirely well in mind. Playwright, director and actor make a statement very quickly.
And so in only 80 minutes this modest production evokes pity and terror. The ending is remarkable. We see that Rostom - this oppressed, insignificant guy - has a fate is as inevitable as that of Oedipus’. The so the play is a genuine tragedy on a small scale.
With the bulk of playwrights over-writing their plays, it’s great to find one like Ms. Bugadze who says so much in a slight play. In fact, we’d like to see a some of the secondary characters more developed.
Congratulations to this company on Navigator in Love!