Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Michele Markarian
The first thing you notice when you enter the space at Central Square Theater is Sara Brown’s realistic, spacious and pristine set design, with its white walls, high ceilings and light wooden beams. The dimensions of the space suggest plenty of room for entities both alive and dead, as well as the ones we’ll meet that are somewhere in between. Augmented by Arshan Gailus’s wonderful sound design and original music, the set is the perfect playing space for Jordan Harrison’s intriguing play, set in the not-too distant future.
Marjorie is eighty five, and losing her memory. To keep her mind and self intact, her son-in-law Jon has acquired, through a company called Senior Serenity, a therapeutic facsimile of a human being called a Prime. This Prime is designed to look like a younger version of Walter, Marjorie’s long-deceased husband. Walter Prime is only as good as the information he’s been given; he needs to be fed historical information – memories – that Marjorie will respond to in order for her to stay as she always was. The Prime disturbs Marjorie’s daughter, Tess, who fears she won’t be needed anymore. Even Marjorie, who’s still sharp enough to know the difference between the Prime (a solicitous and polite Alejandro Simoes), and her memory of the real Walter, is onto the game. “Let’s all pretend we’ll live forever”, she says, in one of her more lucid moments. But when someone else is deciding what memories are important to Prime and which are not, is this really living? Is it our perception of who we believe someone to be that makes them alive, rather than the essence of a person, hence the need for a Prime?
For Tess (Lee Mikesha Gardner, in a finely tuned emotional performance) the importance of Marjorie being the Marjorie of her childhood is paramount. Her relationship with Marjorie – the excellent and compelling Sarah deLima – is fraught with tension, largely due to the suicide of her older brother after killing their dog, Toni, something the family would rather not remember. Tess is very angry with Marjorie, and this unresolved anger and frustration with the Prime technology leads Tess to her own depression. Her husband Jon, in a well grounded performance by Barlow Adamson, appears to be the voice of reason, the bridge between the past, present and future. But even he succumbs to his wife’s insistent theory that past a certain age, there is nothing new to learn, no new windows to open, no new feelings to explore – just the certainty of death.
M. Bevin O’Gara’s direction is flawless. The cast is terrific. In addition to Tess and Marjorie, deLima and Gardener play their characters’ Primes in subtle yet remarkable ways. Despite moments of hilarity – Marjorie’s rendition of Beyonce’s “Put a Ring on It” is very funny – “Marjorie Prime” is, on an existential level, a smart but depressing play. I didn’t feel badly for any of the characters, other than Mitchell, Micah, and Reina, the offstage children of the angst-ridden Tess and Jon, and I’m not sure they count. No, I felt badly for all of us, who will, if we’re lucky, turn a certain age and find ourselves with – what? Nothing new, just death? Playwright Jordan Harrison is still under forty. Certainly he’ll have a long career ahead of him; as he ages, it will be interesting to see how his feelings about longevity evolve. At any rate, you won’t want to miss this provocative, disturbing, and well-acted play. For more info, go to: https://www.centralsquaretheater.org/