Encore Michigan

‘Marjorie Prime’ serves plenty of food for thought

Review January 26, 2022 David Kiley

TRENTON, Mich.–There is no question that technology has the power to change everything. Sometimes, new technology has such a swift, profound impact on our lives that we can’t even remember what we did differently before it arrived.

Marjorie Prime, now playing at Open Book Theatre here, shows us a family around the year 2050, when the elderly Marjorie (Margaret Gilkes) is experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimers disease. To bring her comfort, daughter Tess (Jeanine Thompson) and son-in-law Jon (Lindel Salow) hire a service called Prime, conceived to help Alzheimer patients by creating holographic projections of deceased family members which are inputted with the patients’ memories so that they can “retell” them back to the patient.

Marjorie has chosen a younger version of her late husband Walter (Dan Johnson), who died fifteen years earlier. Tess does not trust the system, and thus she does not talk to Walter’s hologram. Marjorie, though, tells stories of her life to Walter Prime and enjoys listening to him participate in the reminiscences. Interestingly, Marjorie asks Walter at times to embellish stories to make them better and more pleasant, so that the new story will become her new memory.

This is where the relationship between life and technology should really make you think–the literal altering of memories and reality. And then comes the debate as to whether technological measures are scary or welcome? Good or bad? After all, most of us have a computer in our pocket that has far more capability than computers in the early days of space exploration. But we can debate whether that has been a positive or negative for human-kind.

Conflict in the story is supplied by Tess’s skepticism and reluctance around Prime, and Jon’s counterpoint of enthusiasm for the tech solution.

The 80-minute play, directed ably by Wendy Katz Hiller,  does not go up and down like a roller-coaster, but rather moves deliberately through these confrontational themes. Though the driving theme places the conflict in the future, the relationships feel somewhat Chekhovian–stories set in Russia more than 100 years ago. That is a strength of the play, which will feel au currant for decades to come.

Artificial Intelligence that could make Prime possible is here today. That’s why the story doesn’t feel so futuristic. Indeed, it feels like a Silicon Valley company could announce the Prime holograms at the next Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. And because it feels so contemporary, it resonates all the more in the now. Who among us has not dealt with an elder parent or grandparent whose faculties have been diminished, who tell the same stories over-and-over again as a source of comfort and connection? Harrison’s play also guides our thinking into how solutions to the maladies of aging might be better dealt with through technology rather than pharmaceutically.

In the end, the power and delight of Marjorie Prime is how deeply it will make you think about tomorrow’s problems that are actually here today.

Lighting Design is by Harley Miah. Scenic Design is by Bradly Byrne. Sound and prop design is by Hiller. Produced by Krista Schafer Ewbank.

Week of 8/15/2022

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