It has been long time since I was at a performance at which the audience didn't want to leave. As the house lights came up, many were sitting talking about the play with their companions. They did last night at MARJORIE PRIME, which deserves the old description "thought-provoking."
When the play begins, 85 year old Marjorie (Lois Smith), is reminiscing with a handsome, well-dressed young man (Noah Bean). The young man is a prime, a robotic version of Marjorie's husband, Walter, that has been filled with memories of Walter and his relationship with Marjorie. The memories can be revised to be more pleasing to the human. Aged and inform, Marjorie is happiest in a selective version of her past. She doesn't want to remember unhappy moments like the suicide of her son. Marjorie is cared for by her daughter Tess (Lisa Emery), who is going through a midlife crisis, and Tess's husband Jon (Stephen Root), who is the one person who can carry on a pleasant conversation with her. Tess dreads the second half of her life, the portion when she may need to be cared for and may live more in the past than in the present or future. When Marjorie dies and is replaced with a prime, Lisa is skeptical of the machine, which she sees less as a person than as a "backboard" against which we bounce words and memories.
MARJORIE PRIME makes one think about the extent to which our lives are remembering and the reliability of those memories -- how much the people we love are our creations. The play's powerful final scene makes us ponder how human is a machine that is all memory, devoid of present or future. Director Anne Kauffman has created a perfectly paced production in Laura Jellinek's setting, which looks like a cold simulacrum of a domestic space. The cast couldn't be better. Lois Smith and Lisa Emery deftly play two versions of themselves, as humans and as their sweeter, blander prime replacements.
MARJORIE PRIME is already in the works as a film. See it onstage if you can. Film versions of plays seldom match the power of the live drama.
MARJORIE PRIME. Playwrights Horizons. January 2, 2016.