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BWW Review: Jordan Harrison's Pulitzer Finalist MARJORIE PRIME Explores The Future of Artificial Intelligence

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Noah Bean and Lois Smith (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The last time playwright Jordan Harrison and director Anne Kauffman arrived for a stint at Playwrights Horizons, it was for the very clever 2011 social satire MAPLE AND VINE, where burned out millennials opted to stay in a gated community where life was continually lived in the 1950s.

This time around they appear to be entering TWILIGHT ZONE territory with a futuristic drama, MARJORIE PRIME, which was a finalist for the most recent Pulitzer Prize and is already slated for a film version starring Jon Hamm.

The invaluable Lois Smith plays octogenarian Marjorie, who, at the start of the play, is taking a trip down memory lane with Walter (Noah Bean) who looks thirtysomething. From the improbability of their shared experiences and his occasional lapses into stilted language, it's obvious there's something a bit peculiar going on.

Walter is, in fact, an artificial intelligence recreation of Marjorie's late husband's younger self, called a prime. The more you interact with him, the more memory he acquires and the more credible a substitute he becomes. But with Marjorie's unreliable recollections, and her desire to selectively remember or outright change facts, her new companion is actually more of an idealized version of Walter.

Lisa Emery and Stephen Root (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Marjorie is cared for by her daughter Tess (Lisa Emery) and son-in-law Jon (Stephen Root). The stressed out Tess is highly suspicious of this new technology and the harm that could come developing emotional attachments to them.

Time passes and when we next see Marjorie... well, let's just say she and Walter seem more like a matched pair. Harrison takes the scenario exactly to where you'd expect and by the end of the play's seventy minutes we're in a world of artificial life passing on a history that never was.

It's a premise with potential, but once the scenario is revealed and the morality issues debated, the drama is played out with little intrigue or surprise.


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