“Marjorie Prime” at Marin Theatre Company

actress Joy Carlin as Marjorie

 

From looking at the audience in the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley last night I would say that “Marjorie Prime” by Jordan Harrison hit home.  As in all live theater audiences now, they are adult, mostly grey haired or d’un certain age.

I don’t think I am giving anything away about the play to say that it is a sobering look at famiy life as seen through the screen of aging with artificial intelligence as the directing machine.  The play presents an 85 year old woman (very appropriately played by veteran Bay Area actress Joy Carlin), meeting a young version of her dead husband Walter (Tommy Gorrebeeck) who has been programmed to feed the story of her past to her in order to stimulate her faded memory.

This is a fine idea, but one that is not apparent to the audience unless they have read summaries in pre-performance materials that the MTC posts in the lobby or the hand- out given to the press like me. Or unless it is used to movies that use this avatar technique. The audience seemed stumped about what was going on at times.

Marjorie is frail of mind and body.  She sits in a tattered red chair surrounded by bare wooden walls in what could be described as a rental ski cabin that the owners did not have enough money to complete.  One lone picture of a presumably former homestead hangs on the wall but it is removed towards the end.  Is the decor by Kimie Nishikawa supposed to be as empty as Marjorie’s deteriorating mind or is it on doctors’ orders to cut out the clutter?

A handsome young Walter prods her memory with stories of her family but not all of them. Marjorie has repressed some of the most unhappy family incidents that are revealed in the end.  It is clear that she only remembers selective items such as her suitor, the champion tennis player whose ranking is often hazy, as are other selected items.

In the one-act 85 minute play there are no separate acts but frozen minutes of silence that either show time or memory lapses.  The lapses as well as the entire AI premise are confusing. Director Ken Rus Schmoll  probably thought that the audience was up to date on primes in AI vs. reality.  Not this audience of elderlies including me.

The encounters, either imagined, primed or stage real, between the adult daughter Tess (Julie Eccles) is tense and fraught with past resentments.  Tess is an angry woman but with an anger contained in her every moment on stage until the end when she too is controlled by AI and turns into a loving and caring person.

Her husband Jon, played by one of the best actors in the Bay Area Anthony Fusco, exhibits the definition Marjorie had of him from the first moment.  He is “over-solicitous”.  He is the peace maker.  The indignities of old age are compounded throughout the play and then suddenly it is happy time at the end symbolizing what exactly? Aging is just another stage to be endured? Dying is not to be feared?

“Marjorie Prime” is rich with thoughts and acting them out on the stage is therapeutic for the cast and I suppose for the audience as well.  This is a serious play with moments of laughter.  However do you laugh or cry when Marjorie wets herself while sitting in her armchair?  That depends whether you are at that age or have someone in your life for whom you are the caretaker.

I actually loved this play for its humility and honesty.  I only think the AI framework is a bit stretched.  After all there are hundreds of ways to describe AI and playwright Harrison should have defined his use of it for this play.

“Marjorie Prime” runs through May 27, 2018.  marintheatre.org or 415 388 5208.

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →