The theater department presents Sam Shepard’s “Forensic and the Navigator,” directed by Austin Tooley, at 8 p.m. on April 19-22 in Gruber Theater, also known as Studio B.
The play takes place in a dystopian future, where two revolutionaries plot to break into a government facility and free the inmates, when two government “Exterminators” arrive. In a strange plot twist, the woman who lives with the two men casts a spell over the characters, which allows her to consume each of them.
Even in such abstract circumstances, Austin Tooley, a first-year graduate student studying theater and directing, thinks that the themes in the play that were relevant when Shepard wrote the play in the late ’60s are still pertinent today.
“It was written during a time of war, and it deals with the themes of ideology and authority, which should resonate now,” Tooley said. “It was written during a time of great social change, so cultural and social identity are examined in the story.”
Tooley commented that anyone interested in exploring what it means to be a soldier for a senseless cause, or what it means to speak with the limited vocabulary of violence, would enjoy this play.
“This is very much a play about human beings struggling to find their way through a world that doesn’t make sense,” Tooley said.
Jillian Burg, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, plays Oolan and thinks that Tooley did a good job with this extremely abstract and disjointed screenplay.
“He uses that ambiguous space as fuel to go as far out as he wants with his imaginative mind, and then has the intelligence so that these risky choices serve to make the connections in the text and the relationships between characters clear and rich,” Burg said.
The rehearsal process for this production was not simply line reading and blocking. Tooley had the actors research a Native American dance (ghost dance, war dance, rain dance, buffalo dance, sun dance) and present the dances to one another. He also encouraged them to bring in music, film, books, art and ideas that they felt connected to the play in some way.
Martin Murray, a junior majoring in theater who plays Forensic in the play, auditioned for this production mainly because it was a Sam Shepard play. Growing up, Shepard was by far Murray’s favorite playwright and helped him appreciate the works of others.
“Someone like Tennessee Williams has the power in his writing to make it seem like he is whispering secrets into your ear during his shows,” Murray said. “Shepard, on the other hand, does that, but it’s as if he is whispering his secrets into your gut. So the reaction one is left with after his show is not one easily explained by words, but one that is primal and deep inside oneself.”
Gregory Hernandez, a junior majoring in creative writing, plays first Exterminator and feels the audience will be fully entertained throughout the show.
“There are so many shifts in each scene that it will truly keep the audience on their toes,” Hernandez said. “I can honestly say there never is a dull moment in this show.”
Tickets for “Forensics and the Navigator” can be purchased at the door for $3.