Last night, after making the trek to and from Glencoe, my girlfriend and I walked to our local grocery store for a snack. Standing before a formidable display of pears, I asked, “Which one do I get?” “Do you have your phone?” she responded. I had intentionally left it at home, something you too might consider after watching “Marjorie Prime.”
“What would we have done in the nineties?” I countered. While I meant it as a joke, I was briefly filled with a kind of “can’t go home again” awareness. It’s a feeling the characters of this small, heartbreaking play encounter again and again as they go from full bloom to withering under the unflinching auspices of time.
In addition to being the season opener at Writers Theatre, “Marjorie Prime” is being mounted almost concurrently by Playwrights Horizon. And while I have great esteem for that company, I have a hard time imagining anyone doing a finer job with the intricate demands of Jordan Harrison’s brilliant play.
Director Kimberly Senior has assembled—to appropriate a fitting, old-timer phrase—a crackerjack team of artists. Mary Ann Thebus, Erik Hellman, Nathan Hosner and Kate Fry hold absolutely nothing back. Yet the fruits of their labors are hidden amongst the thorny realities of their characters. Befitting a play about distance—emotional, existential and otherwise—there is great risk and even greater rewards on both sides of the fourth wall.
As a work of science fiction, “Marjorie Prime” deftly avoids the hysteria of dystopia by organically blending new technologies into the fabric of humdrum human drama. For instance, there is nothing in Brian Sidney Bembridge’s stark scenery that suggests a particular time or place. And yet its clinical feel is all too reminiscent of austere Apple Store aesthetics; its very sterility a source of perpetual anxiety.
Seeing a truly brave and beautiful production is one of the great pleasures of writing criticism. It is also one of its greatest miseries. There is no amount of lavish praise or intellectual insight that can fill up this play’s deafening pauses, each swollen with a lifetime of regret, concern and love. Yet, I believe Harrison’s play has an optimistic heart. Our increasing technological dependence gets a good deal of grief. Meanwhile certain interested parties are eager to paint a rosy picture of infinite communication. But perhaps the truth is somewhere in the murky in-between. We are who we have always been. Only now we can be that way forever. (Kevin Greene)
Writers Theatre, 664 Vernon, Glencoe, writerstheatre.org, $35-$70. Through February 28.