2 Off-Broadway Shows To See This Summer!

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It’s been a hot summer in New York this year, and if history is any indication it’s only going to get hotter now that August is here. Of course, the city is full of remedies for beating the heat: ice cream, public pools, frozen margaritas, and more great beaches than most people realize just a public transport ride away. Some days though, you just need to hole up inside, someplace dark and cool, where the air conditioning is pumping and you can’t even see the sun. And if you find yourself having one of those days sometime in the next few weeks, you may want to consider seeing one of two plays I had the opportunity to preview back in July: Navigator in Love, and Dear Jane. Coincidentally, each of them parallels the darkness that a lot of people crave in this kind of heat. Beyond that though, you’re in for a very different experience depending on which one you choose.

Navigator in Love is definitely the darker of the two—or at least the more overtly darker. It follows the story of Rostom, a sad character who is stuck in a job he doesn’t like, pining after a woman who doesn’t return his feelings, and who pretty much feels lonely and disconnected all the time. He is so disconnected, in fact, that he begins to develop a very intimate relationship with the GPS navigator in his company-sponsored car. Ironically, as this relationship evolves, his real life relationships fall further and further into disrepair, along with his grasp on reality. And without giving too much of the plot away, it doesn’t take long for it all to come to a head.

Navigator in Love featuring Masha Dakic and Michael Propster Photo credit Isaiah Tanenbaum

For those of you who have seen the movie Her—in which Joaquin Phoenix plays a man who falls in love with Samantha, his phone’s operating system—there are some obvious similarities between this play and the movie. But while Her focuses more on the broader impact of technology on modern relationships, Navigator in Love is really about poor Rostom, and the causes and consequences of his loneliness. The navigator is a mere catalyst for everything that happens. And the play really is driven by Michael Propster, the actor who plays Rostom. He does a wonderful job of portraying the complexity of the character. In fact, throughout the play you actually feel as if you are the character’s head, trying to discern reality from the bizarre notions that are planted by the Navigator.

The other thing that, to me, made this play really interesting is that the story takes place in Georgia—the country, not the state. Not only that, it was written by Lasha Bugadze, a Georgian playwright, so the perspective from which the story is told is really quite unique. By that I mean that there is a political and social context surrounding Rostom’s micro-level story it that makes it compelling in ways you don’t often see in American theater. Indeed, it was definitely outside of my theater box, but that is what made me enjoy the play so much.

Navigator in Love is running through Sunday, August 6th at the Teatro Circulo, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue), as part of the Georgian-American Theatrical Feast. For tickets and more information about the show or the festival, you can go to the website.

Navigator in Love featuring Michael Propster, Ross DeGraw, and Owen Scott Photo credit Isaiah Tanenbaum

Dear Jane, on the other hand, was written by an American—Joan Beber—but also enjoyable, in other ways. Set in a variety of places around the country, it tells the long and complicated story of Julie, a playwright herself, who is in the process of finishing a play about that same long and complicated life.

If you’re a little confused, I was too—at least in the beginning of the play. But once we got into it a bit it became clearer to me. Julie’s life story is essentially told through a series of scene rehearsals from her play. What makes it a little tricky is that the scenes are out of order. Oh, and everything is catalyzed by the death of her twin sister, who serves as a “voice of reason” throughout the play.

Yes, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a lot going on in this play. You need to pay very close attention.

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But the story at its heart is an engaging one—and one that deals with a lot of complicated issues, ranging from sibling rivalry to domestic violence to the often challenging relationships between parents and children. Indeed, Julie (and Beber, whose own relationship with her twin inspired the play) has experienced a lot. And underlying everything she goes through is a perpetual search for enlightenment. In fact, it is her prioritization of this pursuit that causes, in one way or another, a lot of her struggles. It certainly plays into her complicated relationship with her daughter Jill, who for the majority of the play is an afterthought. Julie and Jill’s relationship was actually one of my favorite things about the production—played really nicely by Santina Umbach (Jill) and Jenny Piersol (Julie), I found it even more compelling than the relationship between Julie and her twin sister Jane that is the catalyst for her trip down memory lane.

As for the production itself, I would say it felt a bit surreal at times, kind of like I was in a dream. But not in a bad way. Many of the scenes are heightened through dramatic lighting, slow motion movements, or other visual effects. On top of that, the scenes shift very fast—you’ll go from 2011 to 1945 in the blink of an eye. Indeed, the story comes together in kind of the same way that a 2500-piece jigsaw puzzle does—there are several sections in motion all at the same time, and Beber builds them out piece by piece, in random order. Eventually though, you get enough pieces in each section to see the full picture. It’s quite an adventure.

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Again, if you go see Dear Jane, you need to be mentally prepared to focus. For those who like their theater with a side of stimulation though, this is a play for you.

Dear Jane is playing at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre (410 West 42nd Street) through August 26th. For more information and tickets, you can go to the play’s website.

What plays have kept you busy at the theater lately? Share below!

By: Reagan Daly

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