Marjorie Prime Theatre Review - A World Premiere Directed by Les Waters

"Marjorie Prime" plays at the Center Theatre Group's Mark Taper thru October 16, 2014.

 

Now well into her golden years, Marjorie (Lois Smith) is all too aware that neither her memory nor her health is what it used to be.  With her good days and bad days melting together into a puddle of semi-lucid existence, her daughter and step-son have furnished Marjorie with a Prime. Walter Prime (Jeff Ward) is a humanoid companion programmed to take in memories and learn how to “be” a dead loved one, in Marjorie’s case her late husband at age 30.

 

Meanwhile, Marjorie’s middle-aged daughter Tess (Lisa Emery) is completely conflicted about the whole thing. She wants her mother to remain as present and mental healthy for as long as possible, but is simultaneously worried the Prime is not really helping and a little jealous Walter Prime might actually be achieving the closeness she always wanted from her mother.

 

Lois Smith & Frank Wood in "Marjorie Prime", at the Mark Taper thru October 16, 2014.

 

Playing the role of Switzerland in this family unit is Jon (Frank Wood), Tess’ husband, college sweetheart and father of their three children. While is relationship with Marjorie has actually improved since Walter Prime, he remains stymied as to how he can help Tess through her daily emotional minefield. He is the emotional glue fighting to fuse this fragmented family together with his special brand of loving wit and unconditional understanding.

 

As the play progresses, we see each of character struggling to obtain human connect through a being that is not even human, with varying levels of success. Will the use of Primes prove essential or pointless?

 

Lisa Emery (left) & Lois Smith (right) in "Marjorie Prime", at the Mark Forum Taper thru October 16, 2014.

 

OK. By the end of this 75-minute one act, I struggle with one basic question: what is this play about. Perhaps the playwright intended to say something about how our memories being the merchants of our humanity. Or perhaps the play was to pose the question: Is life ultimately just the futile exercise we all engage in, while we wait for death.  I honestly don’t know.

 

While the performances themselves were five overall, the dramatic thrust of this tale of family dysfunction keeps you at arms length. Perhaps the flaw in the direction was in creating a believable, almost palpable distance between these characters who are struggling to connect with one anther, which accidentally creates an insurmountable distance with its audience.

 

Jeff Ward (l.) & Frank Wood (r.) in "Marjorie Prime", at the Mark Taper thru October 16, 2014.

 

The piece does not set up place and time: past, present, future, alternate universe. The play does not set up the need for Walter Prime other than the passive obligatory, “She’s seems better.” Seeing and understanding the context is critical as a point of entry for the audience, and we don’t get one; we are just thrown in and expected to accept. Also, the structure does not lend itself to the building of sustained tension; the pressure valve is constantly being released before there are any stakes established in the scene. I really wanted to like this lay. Intellectually I sympathized that the characters, unfortunately the play itself didn’t make me feel anything.

 

Marjorie Prime is playing now through October 19, 2014 at:

Mark Taper Forum
at the Music Center 
downtown Los Angeles 

135 N Grand Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90012

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