BWW Review: MARJORIE PRIME at The Santa Fe Playhouse
Artificial Intelligence is very much a part of modern life. Whether it's Alexa, Siri, or even the pleasant voice giving directions via a GPS, we as a society have pretty thoroughly integrated AI into a significant portion of our existence. We connect emotionally with these forms of AI, on some level, too (anyone who has argued aloud with their GPS can verify); but what if it went further? What if these forms of Artificial Intelligence existed solely for developing those connections? And... what if they took the form of our dearly departed? Such is the premise of Marjorie Prime, the thought provoking new production currently playing at the Santa Fe Playhouse.
Marjorie Prime, which was a 2015 Pulitzer finalist written by Jordan Harrison, opens with Marjorie, an aged gen-Xer (the play is set about 40 years from now) talking to "Walter". We discover through their interactions that Walter is the AI version of Marjorie's late husband, and though her daughter, Tess, isn't keen on the idea, Walter is supposed to be beneficial to Marjorie, and Tess's husband, Jon, supports keeping him around. The play continues in various brief scenes that, without giving too much away, produce a thoughtful, moving meditation on aging, loss, family, and the concept of memory.
The script is endlessly intriguing, and director Duchess Dale cast this production beautifully. In the role of Marjorie, Carolyn Wickwire is flawless. She portrays in turn Marjorie's strength and frailty, and prickliness and sentimentality with a lovely, captivating energy. Though featured less, David Ballowe is excellent as AI Walter; he gives a sense of human emotion beneath his careful, composed, AI persona that I found absolutely fascinating. As Marjorie's daughter, Tess, Karen Ryan gave a powerhouse performance; Tess is a bitter and scared woman through much of the play, and Ms. Ryan made her highly complex and sympathetic, even at her most difficult. Jeff Nell was also brilliant as Jon; again, I really don't want to spoil the play, but the trajectory of his character is masterfully executed, and his performance in the later part of the play is, in some ways, the most moving of all.
It is fitting that a play with as high tech a concept as Marjorie Prime would have exemplary technical elements; the production at the Playhouse has some of the strongest combined tech I've seen there. David Carter's chic and elegant set design is complimented perfectly by Annie Liu's impressive lighting design (DD Sherrinford assisted both as the assistant lighting designer and scenic painter). Miles Blitch's sounds design is also thoughtfully done and seamlessly works within the scope of the whole production, and Ali Olhausen provided lovely, character informed costume design.
Marjorie Prime is a brilliant production that continues the Santa Fe Playhouse's current season of new and innovative works. It runs Thursday through Sunday at the Playhouse through May 19th. For tickets and more information, please visit https://santafeplayhouse.org/