Monday, December 21, 2015

Off-Broadway Review: Marjorie Prime

Lois Smith,, Lisa Emery and Stephen Root. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Which Memories Do You Want to Keep?

By Lauren Yarger
Before we launch into reviews for the large number of shows opening on Broadway (stay tuned in upcoming weeks for a preview of what’s coming up and reviews of what’s on stage) I want to make sure you know about an interesting Off-Broadway run over at Playwrights Horizons.

2015 Pulitzer-Prize finalist Marjorie Prime, written by Jordan Harrison (Maple and Vine, “Orange is the New Black”) is getting an extended New York premiere directed by Anne Kauffman. It would be easy to miss it in the burst of big openings down the street on Broadway and that would be a shame, because quieter, thoughtful pieces like Marjorie Prime can be some of the most satisfying times in the theater.

The always excellent Lois Smith stars as Marjorie, an 85-year-old woman who engages a robot to help her remember her departed husband, Walter (Noah Bean). This artificial intelligence unit (or Prime) looks like her husband in his youth and is programmed to remember stories about how they met and their life together.

Her son-in-law Jon (Stephen Root – you’ll know him as the stapler guy from the movie “Office Space”) thinks it’s a great idea and writes down stories when Marjorie shares them to help Walter be – well, more like Walter. And sometimes, he adds a little information to make the memory even more pleasant.

Marjorie’s daughter, Tess (Lisa Emery) is more skeptical of the whole Prime thing, however.  The idea of sharing everything online via social media tools that know our likes and dislikes and what we want before we know ourselves is a little unsettling, she thinks. 

More unsettling is the emerging theme of what makes a memory real and which ones do we really want to remember? Marjorie has forgotten the loss of her troubled son. Is that really such a bad thing? Does Walter really need to be programmed to know about him and remind Marjorie of him? Tess, who still remembers her brother’s death and the fears surrounding it isn’t comforted by being able to remember, so why make her mother relive them?

When memories are lost, or altered, are they any less real? And if we had the chance, which memories would we choose to keep or forget – and why? These are some questions probed by Harrison.

The ensemble gives fine performances in the thought-provoking piece, which plays out on a lime-green apartment set (design by Laura Jellinek) bland enough to allow lighting designer Ben Stanton to focus on characters and the creepy nature of what is taking place. The plot is more intellectual than fast-paced action in this 90-minute, no intermission play, but Kauffman’s taut direction doesn’t allow it to sound boring. Harrison’s script also keeps the subject from veering into science fiction.

Marjorie Prime is extended through Jan. 24 at Playwrights Horizons,  416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm. Tickets are $75-$95www.TicketCentral.com; (212) 279-4200. 

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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