Sunday, December 6, 2015

Marjorie Prime ***

As a Pulitzer finalist and the basis for an upcoming film with Jon Hamm and Geena Davis, this futuristic family drama by Jordan Harrison (Maple and Vine) arrives at Playwrights Horizons with the burden of high expectations. Set in the not-too-distant future, it depicts a world that includes primes, creations of artificial intelligence in the guise of avatars of deceased loved ones, whose purpose is to provide therapy for the living, whether it be the preservation of fading memories for the demented, closure for unresolved relationships or balm for raw grief. Marjorie (the wonderful Lois Smith) is an 85-year-old woman who is rapidly losing the memories of a lifetime. Against the wishes of her prickly daughter Tess (a superb Lisa Emery), her son-in-law Jon (an ultimately touching Stephen Root) has provided her with Walter (Noah Bean), a prime modeled on her late husband when he was 30. Walter only learns what he hears, which raises the ethical question of whether we have the right to curate someone’s memories. Should Walter be kept ignorant of a family tragedy that happened 40 or so years prior so that he cannot cause Marjorie to recall it? We follow the family through the next few years, which turn out to be difficult ones. To say much more would lead into “spoiler” territory. The plot is intriguing, but a bit schematic. I wish the family’s long-ago tragedy were not based on something that has become a dramatic cliche. Nevertheless, there is much to admire. The actors are uniformly wonderful. The final scene is both a satisfying and unexpected one, filled with humanity. Laura Jelinek’s set all in aqua and white has an exaggerated spaciousness that I assume is deliberate. Jessica Pabst’s costumes do not call attention to themselves. Anne Kauffman’s direction is uncluttered and assured. Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission.

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