Marjorie Prime is exactly the type of show that works well at Theatre in the Round. It is a small intimate drama that can be accomplished with a single set. The play written by Jordan Harrison explores the theme of memory and the role it plays in our lives and relationships. I doubt that there is a person in the audience for this show that will not find aspects that resonate on a personal level. Dealing not only with what we remember but what we choose to forget as well. I found the production moving and thought provoking. Theatre in the Rounds most successful production in recent memory plays to the theatre’s strengths with a great script and cast that really pulls you in.
Set in the future of the mid 21st century, it’s not a science fiction story, but uses that future setting in order to make plausible use of its central invention. Prime’s are artificial intelligence robots that look like real people from our lives. The more we talk to them and tell them about the people they are representing the more they can become those people. But this isn’t about technology being used to take over the world. These Prime’s are used to help humans. The play opens with Marjorie, an 85 year old woman who is talking a Prime who resembles her late husband Walter. The purpose of the Prime is to help Marjorie retain her memories and cognitive health. Walter Prime can retell her stories from her life. The more Marjorie and her daughter Tess and son-in-law Jon tell the Prime, the more memories he has to share and the more like the real Walter he can be. What becomes interesting is how it illustrates the fallacies of memory. We all remember things differently for one thing. One realization that comes out is withholding memories from the Prime is really just a way of avoiding dealing with them. Where the play goes from these initial scenes was not what I was expecting and for me that’s when the production really got interesting. There are a lot of other elements that come into the play from our relationships with our parents and spouse to mental illness and our willingness to deal with or avoid painful issues.
The four actors are well cast. Corey Boe as Walter Prime keeps his delivery warm but with an impersonal touch that helps convey that he is a robot. Kristen Mathisen as Marjorie could perhaps have given us a bit more of beginning stages of dementia. As it is, she seems a little too comfortable with her failing memory. But, she brought just the right touch to her later scenes where she is playing a slightly different character. The real standouts are Katie Wodele and David Denninger as Tess and Jon. Denninger’s character is one I found a lot to identify with. He had an everyman quality that made the character easy to identify with playing the diplomat well. You could sense his efforts to try and fix things to make them better to help others work towards facing the issues they wanted to avoid or forget. Wodele nailed the daughter that wants to avoid issues, while also being unable to to let go of them. She wants to help her mother avoid some painful memories to make things easier for her, yet she also cannot forgive her mother for the mistakes she’s made. It’s a complicated role and could easily be unsympathetic but her flaws are what makes her real to us.
The production is directed by Kari Steinbach who finds effective ways to tell this story. We have well used lighting cues by Lighting Designer Peter Gustafson to transition in time. The stage manager who helps reset the stage between scenes is dressed like a home care nurse making these transitions playout as if the lights have just faded on a scene but life is carrying on. Devyn Becker’s set design was perhaps one of the more elaborate that I’ve experienced in this space. creating a space that felt real. There isn’t an attempt to make it futuristic, but the color palate is muted and has a uniformity that gives subconscious impression of a more advanced society.
Marjorie Prime Runs through March 6th at Theatre in the Round in Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.theatreintheround.org/
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