The Mindfuck at the Heart of Majorie Prime

It doesn’t take a lot to convince me to go to the theatre on any given night (or afternoon), but I had to seek out Marjorie Prime, now open at Playwrights Horizons, after this marketing gold-strike of a prompt:  

"What would we remember, and what would we forget, if given the chance?”

Hope you don’t like sleep because if you are like me, this will keep your brain thinking on overdrive from sundown to sunrise. In Marjorie Prime, a ‘prime’ is a robot who develops according to the stories, descriptors and memories that it is fed - and in the context of the show, Majorie’s ‘prime’ emulates a younger version of her now-deceased husband. As Marjorie’s own memory fades in her old age, she depends on the prime to recount some shared memories - and as you would expect, a depressing, yet prevalent life-changing event is omitted.

You almost can’t watch Marjorie Prime passively without thinking about all of the angles yourself and playing around with the “what ifs.” While the ability to forget a painful or harrowing moment sounds ‘convenient’, talk about revisionist history or a unrealistic, sanitized recreation of life. Jordan Harrison doesn’t tackle the concept with Kushner-ian like gusto and thoroughness - which is unfortunate, because I wanted to have my brain blown apart so hard, it would leak out of my ears - but then again, only a few writers can reach that diety-like precipice of writing supremacy.

But can we talk about Harrison’s awesomeness and the balancing act he achieves in the writing? Let me put it this way…for a play with artificial intelligence, it is not necessarily a science-fiction piece. Memory may be a prominent component, but it is not a memory play in the mold of The Glass Menagerie or something like Fun Home. The ending - which might be one of the most oddly impactful bits I’ve ever witnessed - has no wrap-up or resolution in a conventional story or character sense, despite the show's look and feel rooted in minimalism (other then an armchair and some shrubbery, the open-space set design doesn’t change). The dialogue is “every-day conversation” realistic, and yet I awaited with staggered breathing with every moment and was so glad that this piece was unfolding on stage, with an anticipated movie adaptation on the slate for next year.

So basically, Harrison’s writing is everything and nothing, this and that, hot and cold, back and forth and all that jazz other stuff, but it comes together, inspite of its polarizing nature, in a snappy 80 minutes. Impressive, no?!

Marjorie Prime also has solid direction by Anne Kaufman and a fantastic Lois Smith, who plays Marjorie. I can’t attest to anything regarding the film, where Smith reprises her role, but her performance is worth seeing in person (her Beyonce moment is FLAWLESS, trust). Noah Bean may have the least amount of dialogue, but he is perfection as he offers up equal parts robotic monotone and human emotion. Rounding out the ensemble are the always-great Lisa Emery and Stephen Root, whom are so dialed-in to their roles, they didn’t even look like they were performing.

This is not a common train of thought for me, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel or a companion piece to Marjorie Prime. Yes, theatre is an odd platform for such - leave that shit for Hollywood and its ostentatious cash grabs! - but this concept is one rich well of potential. Jordan Harrison, I’m putting this idea out there because I believe you have it in you. At the very least, hit me up for tea so we can talk about this futuristic world of ‘primes’ all day. K, thanx, bye.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

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