Open Book opens “Marjorie Prime” 1/21-2/19
TRENTON, Mich.–In the future, Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology will be used to help humans through all sorts of difficulties, from memory loss to depression. At least, that’s the world playwright Jordan Harrison imagines in Marjorie Prime, opening January 21st at Open Book Theatre in Trenton.
At the beginning of the play, we meet the aging Marjorie and her husband Walter. But Walter appears how Marjorie wants to remember him: as a handsome young man. That’s because he’s a Prime: an AI device to keep Marjorie company, help her remember to eat, and reminisce about the old days. As a Prime, he learns about Walter and the world around him from the stories told by Marjorie, her daughter Tess, and Tess’s husband, Jon.
But what stories do we want to remember? What stories would we rather forget? And what if the stories aren’t the whole truth?
“One of the things that drew me to this play is it creates more questions than answers,” said director Wendy Katz Hiller. “The play is quite short; we are given snippets of scenes covering much time. As the actors and audience, we fill in the blanks of these lives. We imagine ourselves with their choices. We wonder what we would do in these circumstances. Would I want my own Prime someday? Right now, I don’t think so, but as technology changes, our views can too. Maybe when I’m Marjorie’s age I’ll feel differently.”
Talking to a Prime can be “like talking to yourself since the “primes” function based on what they are told by those around them,” says Lindel Salow, who plays Jon. “True, they can respond naturally but they represent an idealized version of the person and so we receive an idealized response. A perception of what is real.”
The play, according to actor Dan Johnson who plays Walter, is about “who we are as people, and how who we are is frequently a function of what we remember, or what others remember about us. To be human, basically, is to make memories, and to hold on to them. So, how do we function when we lose that ability, or lose a memory? And are we, as people, truly how we’re remembered by others? Are we how we remember ourselves?” Hiller points out that as a Prime, Walter has no stories of his own, only what he has been told from others. “To me, being a Prime is very much like being an actor, the goal is to be as present as possible for the other person,” explains Johnson. “So, both as Walter and just being in the show, my job really is just to show up and listen.”
Jeannine Thompson explains that her character Tess says “that you can get fooled by the primes because they are programmed to be interested. But she discovers just being interested does not equal a real connection.”
“Although much of the subject matter of the play is serious, there are definitely light moments too! We are very grateful for Maggie Gilkes’ [who plays Marjorie] comic timing. Just as in real life: along with the serious there is the silly. These actors bring so much joy and energy to each rehearsal; it’s an incredibly fun process,” says director Hiller. “This is a play that will give the audience plenty to discuss on the way home. I know my drive home from rehearsal each night is filled with plenty of questions to contemplate.”
Johnson agrees. “Marjorie Prime makes a lot of very smart, very empathetic observations about so many aspects of the human experience that many of us have probably been going through during the past year and a half – isolation, loneliness, missing loved ones, struggling with mental health. [It] explores all of those issues thoughtfully through the interactions of its four characters, and honestly – even with engaging honestly with those topics, I think it’s ultimately a graceful, optimistic show.”
Marjorie Prime was originally scheduled for the summer of 2020. Hiller said, “I feel like I’ve been working on this project for three years and I can’t wait to get it in front of an audience!”
Marjorie Prime runs January 21 through February 20 at Open Book Theatre. It is written by Jordan Harrison and is directed by Wendy Katz Hiller. The play features Margaret Gilkes as Marjorie, Dan Johnson as Walter, Jeannine Thompson as Tess, and Lindel Salow as Jon. Scenic design by Bradly Byrne, Lighting Design by Harley Miah. Stage Managed by Shardai Renee Davis.
Open Book Theatre requires all audience members to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask.