Review by Laurel Humes of “Marjorie Prime”: Know Theatre
Falcon’s “Marjorie Prime” is a fine, thought-provoking production, as the Newport theater continues its 30th anniversary season.
The play by Jordan Harrison was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2015. I have seen it labeled as science fiction (the time is about 2060), but this is a family drama that resonates in any time period.
Marjorie (Sue Breving) is 85, arthritic and developing dementia. Her family connects with Senior Serenity, an agency that offers “Primes”, computers encased in human-looking bodies that resemble deceased loved ones. Further, you can choose the age of your Prime.
The family, and even the recipient, feed information to the Prime. So at the start of the play, Marjorie is reminiscing with her late husband, Walter (Ryan Poole), who appears to be in the prime of his life at about age 30.
Walter tells Marjorie stories she knows. They talk about their courtship, their early married life. Only once does Walter have to say “I don’t have that information.” Walter Prime does not know about the family tragedy that occurred later in his life.
It is comforting, even though Marjorie is still sharp enough to know this man is not really her husband. Poole plays Walter with compassion, but speaks in a rather emotionless cadence, as though reciting the information he has been given. It’s enough to remind us what he is.
Breving is absolutely believable as Marjorie. Her hands are malformed from arthritis. She moves slowly with a cane. Gone is any attempt at grooming; her stringy hair falls over her face.
But Breving’s Marjorie is also obstinate and bitter about her situation and her family caregivers, who she complains have now turned into her parents.
That will be daughter Tess (Tara Williams) and son-in-law Jon (Terry Gosdin). They are opposites in their attitudes toward Marjorie. Jon is gentle and caring. Tess is sarcastic – well, like her mother – and she has problems with her own grown children. But you wonder why the daughter is so cruel.
That answer will emerge in this multi-layered play. We will see these characters again, in different circumstances. No spoilers, but maybe hints: in the play’s title and when Tess says to her husband, “Will we ever be a Prime? Repeating for someone else what we’ve been fed?”
Director Ed Cohen and this fine cast make all the elements of “Marjorie Prime” real and relevant.
The playwright created the Primes not as a gimmick, but a way to explore the stories we tell ourselves and don’t tell each other, the hurts we keep hidden.
There are inconsequential stories: Did the couple see “My Best Friend’s Wedding” or “Casablanca” on the night he proposed? And there are consequential events: The family tragedy that no one talked about and its effect on everyone.
“Marjorie Prime” continues at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport, through Dec. 7. Go to www.falcontheatre.net for ticket information.