by Jordan Harrison
Director Mitchell Butel
Photos Lisa Tomasetti
Ensemble Theatre until July 21
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
What would it be like if we could change the memories of our history with our relatives? What if we could create improved versions of our loved ones after they die?
It took me a few minutes to warm to it, but Marjorie Prime turned out to be one of the most fascinating productions at the Ensemble Theatre this year.
Marjorie, aged 85, has conversations with an Artificial Intelligence version of her husband, Walter, who died fifteen years ago. The AI was developed to give comfort to, and evoke memories for older people who are experiencing Alzheimers. This version of Walter is aged 30. In their conversations, Marjorie and the AI, Walter Prime, create memories and realities that are more romantic and interesting than they were in actuality.
Marjorie’s daughter Tess is conflicted regarding her attitude to the Prime version of her father and to the concept as a whole. Her concerns increase when she has conversations with Marjorie Prime after the death of her mother. When chatting with the AI to fine-tune an accurate representation, Tess perceives a more loving, more compassionate, more serene and more understanding character than Marjorie.
When theatrical legend, Colleen Clifford, at age 90, was cast as an 86-year-old euthanasia patient, she said that she was delighted at having been asked to play a younger woman.
Maggie Dence (fondly remembered by some of us as Mavis Bramston) as Marjorie, is playing a much older woman. It’s pleasing to see her back on the boards and that she still has the chops to turn in an excellent performance. Dence is well supported by Richard Sydenham as Tess’ husband Jon and Jake Speer as the young Walter.
Most impressive is Lucy Bell as Tess. In the intimacy of the Ensemble Theatre, the audience can see every nuance, every movement and every micro facial expression. In the most emotionally-charged role in the play, Bell turns in an outstanding performance. She personifies method acting at its most effective.
Mitchell Butel’s direction is favourably unnoticeable and Simon Greer’s minimalist 1960s set design is unintrusive and functional.
More than an entertaining and thought-provoking 80 minutes of theatre, Marjorie Prime could be a glimpse into possibilities within our lifetime, and Lucy Bell’s performance is alone worth the admission price.