If the new artistic crew at 7 Stages wanted to make a splash as part of their first full season on their own, they’ve certainly done so with “The Navigator,” the world premiere that opens the 2013-14 season for the Little Five Points theater company. “The Navigator,” which is being performed at the Goat Farm Arts Center, is about as far removed from the trademark fare often associated with 7 Stages as possible, sure to attract as many teenagers as adult theatergoers.
A walking, interactive adventure-fantasy that’s running through October 13, “The Navigator” has been adapted and directed by Michael Haverty, associate artistic director at 7 Stages, from the best-selling book by Irish writer Eoin McNamee. (McNamee flew in to appear on opening night.)
At the center of the production is Owen (Kyle Brumley), a young man who has been taking care of his depressed mother (Reay Kaplan) following the death of his father. After Owen witnesses a flash of darkness one evening, he meets a mystery man named the Sub-Commandant (Luis Hernandez), who explains that the flash he has just witnessed is courtesy of a group called the Harsh, ice creatures that have literally turned back time to the earth’s pre-human period. Owen doesn’t believe the rants of the Sub-Commandant, but when he returns home, he finds his mother and their house gone.
Along Owen’s journey to restore time, he meets Cati (Mandi Lee), the Sub-Commandant’s daughter, and Dr. Diamond (Bryan Mercer), who’s something of an expert on time. He also discovers another group called the Resisters, who are fighting against the Harsh.
Got all that? There’s much more to boot. Narrative clarity isn’t the strong suit here. To its credit, “The Navigator” makes a little more sense over time, but it’s still fairly confusing. Those not already familiar with the book will be at a serious disadvantage, because way too much information, and a dozen or so characters, are crammed into a taut 90-minute frame.
But it’s hard to ignore that director Haverty has a bold vision. He is completely, personally committed to the production even when it seems silly and difficult to follow.
Haverty learned about the book when Del Hamilton, 7 Stages’ co-founder and former artistic director, handed him a copy and said he thought it would make a great play. The play is a fit for the sprawling Goat Farm. Using multi-disciplinary styles — animation, silhouette projection and puppetry — Haverty has created a world of chaos, fights, oddball characters, creatures known as “bog hounds” and nifty special effects. It’s a rapidly paced show, in which the audience is often divided into two camps and taken into different nooks of the facility, where they assist in “healing” soldiers and finding important clues.
As ambitious as it is, it can be exhausting, both mentally and physically. The production takes its audience on as much of a journey as Owen, with a lot of walking throughout the Goat Farm, through buildings, up and down stairs and back and forth, with young, indefatigable guides yelling to move faster. As such, “The Navigator” proves to be uniquely its own: It’s theater meets performance art meets sci-fi meets puppet show meets boot camp.
The cast is large, and Brumley, recently profiled as one of ArtsATL’s “30 Under 30,” gives the work a firm center as the bewildered Owen. Among the supporting cast, Mercer gleefully overacts. Haverty’s technical crew includes an animation designer, a fight choreographer, a costume and puppet consultant and many more, who all work together to make the production visually appealing and inventive. Composer Klimchak contributes a musical score; he and Nicolette Emanuelle play instruments literally alongside the action
“The Navigator” ultimately asks a bit too much from its audience, but it’s not a theatrical production that audiences are likely to forget soon. Haverty and his crew have thrown the Goat Farm sink into the mix, and it’s admirable and energetic. Do yourself a favor first, though, before seeing it: Grab some “Navigator” Cliffs Notes to make the journey easier to follow. And don’t forget the Gatorade.