Marjorie Prime Review - A Beautiful, Haunting Piece of Theatre

 

Erik Hellman and Mary Ann Thebus in Marjorie Prime. Photo by Michael Brosilow

 

Writers Theatre begins its 2015-16 season with Marjorie Prime, the story of an aging woman’s attempt to recollect her past with the help of an unusual piece of technology and her family’s struggle to adjust to this new way of living and remembering. This Pulitzer-nominated play by Jordan Harrison is Writers Theatre’s last production at Books on Vernon before moving into their new home in February. Thought-provoking and clever, this story of life in the age of artificial intelligence invites audiences to reconsider what it means to have a memory, to be part of a family, and to be human.

 

Kate Fry, Mary Ann Thebus, and Nathan Hosner in Marjorie Prime. Photo by Michael Brosilow

 

The play opens with Marjorie, an 86-year-old woman who has begun to lose her memory and her ability to take care of herself, recounting stories of her life with her husband and children to Walter, a lifelike android who mimics her patterns of speech and adds information about her life and personality to his database as she shares it. Veteran actor Mary Ann Thebus captures both Marjorie’s fragility and the remaining fragments of her vitality, delivering humorous and heartbreaking lines with equal skill. The script is delicately balanced, allowing the audience to be drawn in to the connection between Marjorie and Walter for minutes at a time before forcing us out of our reverie with lines like “I’m afraid I don’t have that information,” refusing to let us forget that Marjorie’s companion is, in fact, a computer.

 

Erik Hellman and Mary Ann Thebus in Marjorie Prime. Photo by Michael Brosilow

 

As the story continues to unfold, we meet Tess, Marjorie’s middle-aged daughter, and her husband Jon, and their cynicism of and faith in the beneficial effects of Walter’s presence, respectively, open up nuanced conversations about the effects of technology on our lives. Too much art falls into the easy trap of condemning technology as universally evil and calling it insight. Marjorie Prime takes no particular stance on the issue, simply presenting us with a world in which androids are able to imitate human beings and examining it from many angles, asking the audience to draw its own conclusions about the world the play creates and the one in which we live.

 

Kate Fry and Mary Ann Thebus in Marjorie Prime. Photo by Michael Brosilow

 

The show’s arc is masterfully subtle, with the script building up to poignant moments and striking one-liners without the audience even being aware that it is happening, leading to moments of uncommon freshness in the storytelling. These moments are enhanced by skilled acting. Of particular note is Tess’ breakdown after interacting with a being much like Walter, in which her character’s skepticism and deep inner turmoil explode into the disclosure of a dark and troubling worldview. Actor Kate Fry gives this moment strength by playing her character with subtlety throughout the show, making her outburst the most raw, real moment in the play by comparison. Actor Nathan Hosner also deserves credit for his portrayal of upbeat Jon’s fall from optimism after experiencing a loss of his own.

 

Kate Fry and Nathan Hosner in Marjorie Prime. Photo by Michael Brosilow

 

Writers Theatre is known for the intimacy of their venues, and Marjorie Prime definitely benefits from the immediacy the bookstore theatre provides. Director Kimberly Senior’s graceful staging uses the space to its full potential and amplifies the elegance of an already elegant script. Lighting and scenic design by Brian Sidney Bembridge is clean and simple, creating a small, almost clinical world for the play to take place without distracting from the focus on the text and characters. Sound design and composition by Rick Sims is an important element of the storytelling as well, with quick sound effects and the significant use of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons adding punch to the production.

 

Kate Fry and Nathan Hosner in Marjorie Prime. Photo by Michael Brosilow

 

Marjorie Prime is unsettling in the best possible way. The best theatre is that which shakes an audience from its complacency, and Marjorie Prime does this well. This haunting piece of theatre is gorgeous in its writing and skilled in its execution. It is a high note on which to end the Writers Theatre’s time in Books on Vernon.

 

Ticket Information

Dates: October 21, 2015-February 28, 2016

 

Schedule:  

Tuesdays & Wednesdays: 7:30pm (with select 3:00pm Wednesday matinees)

Thursdays & Fridays: 7:30pm

Saturdays: 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Sundays: 2:00pm and 6:00pm

 

Location: Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave, Glencoe.  

Prices: Prices for all performances range from $35 - $70. Purchase early for best prices.

Box office: The Box Office is located at 321 Park Avenue, Glencoe; 847-242-6000; Writer’s Theatre website

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