Marjorie Prime: Theater review by David Cote
Despite the built-in obsession with gadgets, science fiction always orbits back to a familiar subject: human psychology. All those robots, rockets and aliens are just shiny metaphors for our deeper hopes and fears. So Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime, set in a world where androids replace the dead, rebuilding personality by reminiscing with the living, is an intriguing scenario but mainly an elegant study of memory as both escape and prison.
In Anne Kauffman’s perfectly chilled yet cozy staging, Tess (Lisa Emery) and Jon (Stephen Root) take care of Tess’s octogenarian mother, Marjorie (Lois Smith), who spends her free time chatting with Walter (Noah Bean), a Prime modeled after her late husband when he was still young and handsome. The general attitude toward Primes is neither technophobic nor self-deluded: These are remembering machines, therapeutic ghosts with impeccable manners who are keen to learn.
The structural trick of Harrison’s play (not to give too much away) is the slow proliferation of Primes, which both palliates and sharpens the tragic chapters of Marjorie and Tess’s past. Time will tell if A.I. ever becomes a reality, but the human parts of Harrison’s smart, lovely play are built to last.—David Cote
Playwrights Horizons (Off Broadway). By Jordan Harrison. Directed by Anne Kauffman. With Lois Smith, Lisa Emery, Stephen Root, Noah Bean. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.