Tim Sanford, Artistic Director
Leslie Marcus, Managing Director
Carol Fishman, General Manager
By Jordan Harrison
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Lois Smith, Noah Bean,
Lisa Emery, Stephen Root
Scenic Design by Laura Jellinek
Costume Design by Jessica Pabst
Lighting Design by Ben Stanton
Sound Design by Daniel Kluger
Casting by Alaine Alldaffer, CSA
Production Stage Manager, Vanessa Coakley
Press Representative, The Publicity Office
Assoc. Artistic Director, Adam Greenfield
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 27, 2015 Matinee
On reflecting on Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime, now in performances at Playwrights Horizons, and on perusing the program notes, more details emerge about the concept of future “Primes”. These Primes are pixel-composed, robotic figures, that look like a human, who might be rapidly aging or deceased, with whom family or friends could communicate, in lieu of the departed or aging lookalike. The Prime is digitally fed as many thoughts and experiences that the look-alike figure wishes to be memorialized for posterity, accumulating an internalized, robotic data base, so that a daughter or widow might have the everlasting companionship of a loved one. Or, something along those lines. Very unfortunately, in today’s Sunday matinee in the Mainstage Theater, there were some sound issues, combined with elusive directorial signals, and many in today’s audience vocalized frustration and confusion at the curtain, as to the personality shifts of the main character, Marjorie (Lois Smith). They were equally confused about Walter, Marjorie’s deceased husband, in the form of a young, healthy, handsome man. There are four actors, Ms. Smith as Marjorie, and later, apparently, as Marjorie Prime, her robotic alter ego, Lisa Emery as Tess, Marjorie’s daughter, with whom she apparently lives, and possibly Tess Prime in a final scene, Stephen Root as Tess’ husband, Jon, and Noah Bean as the young Walter.
The scene opens with a stark, ultra-generic living room, with a beige leather recliner for Marjorie. Coffee table, lamps, and kitchen are a study in minimalism, and the wallpaper throughout is of lime and beige leaves, no wall art, no extraneous objects. To this writer, it appeared to be part of a high-end retirement complex, with bedrooms in the rear. Marjorie eats but a teaspoon of peanut butter, before Tess and Jon bring food to the kitchen. Yet, they could be visiting, as the setting did not resemble a natural home. Again, there were no delineated cues or time or setting listed in the program notes, under the cast. It’s obvious that Walter, who’s first to converse with Marjorie, is ghostly, or such, but the fact that he’s a “Prime”, a significant plot device, should have been outlined, either in dialogue or on the program. In fact, I did hear the words Senior Serenity, in breezy conversation, which is why the setting could have been a retirement facility. After now reading the program notes, whose only title is “Welcome to Playwrights Horizons” (and there was no intermission to explore and absorb), it’s noted that this is an “idea play”. I strongly suggest that the play’s central “idea” be front and center to audiences on arrival. Also, actors might change costume when shifting from human to Prime.
The plotline is fragmented, with untimely young deaths of onstage and offstage characters and with family fractures and unstable relationships. But, the science fiction plotline remained, for the most part, opaque. Ms. Smith did present an expansive array of emotions, with memory waning and thoughts repeating, until she morphed into a Prime, or so it seems. Ms. Emery created the edginess of Tess with kinetic energy and gestural angst. Mr. Root was the most engaging of the four, with warmth, patience, and adoration for his wife, even his mother-in-law, whom he had taken in. Mr. Bean, who barely moved or spoke in more than monotone cadence, was à propos to his robotic role. Laura Jellinek’s scenery was very similar to suburban retirement facilities with soft, orderly pastels and bare furniture. As a future home, I’d expect something more unique. Jessica Pabst’s costumes were contemporary, nothing futuristic. Anne Kauffman could have directed for underscoring the Prime plotline through crisp, punctuated dialogue and gestural and scenic cues.