BWW Review: MARJORIE PRIME at The Coal Mine Theatre
MARJORIE PRIME is set some 30 years in the future, after scientists have invented Primes, charmingly lifelike holographic representations of dead people you can buy to keep you company after a loss. Say your husband's passed away - I'm so sorry, but look! here he is, or something that looks and talks just like him. (It is the exact premise of the Black Mirror episode "Be Right Back", which first aired some two years before MARJORIE PRIME premiered off-Broadway, in 2015.)
Thematically, MARJORIE PRIME is engaged with aging, loss, and memory, increasingly important topics. But depicting old age in the theatre can be difficult: older people tend not to move much, and people with Alzheimer's often repeat themselves when they speak. Clever writers can find ways around this - take, for example, Robert Chafe's brilliant Between Breaths, which balances an exciting past with a painful present. In MARJORIE PRIME, however, the action consists entirely of sitting, standing, talking, repeating, and repeating.
"I have three kids" is something you'll hear more than you need to.
MARJORIE PRIME is also disappointingly unambitious as a work of science fiction. Although it is set sometime around 2050, nothing in the world seems to have changed since 2020. Other than Primes, there are no new technological interventions in aging. The characters do not interact with or speak of contemporary politics, culture, or nature. Nothing in Gillian Gallow's pedestrian set or costumes (white cupboard, blue jeans) suggests the show's intended time period.
If there's one reason to head out to the Coal Mine this month, it's stage and screen legend Martha Henry, who takes on the role of Marjorie with grace and fidelity. She owns the best moments in the play: an arthritic hand trying to recreate the fluid movements of a violin player, a woman of dignity betrayed and humiliated by her bodily functions. Henry's every gesture suggests the pains of late life, both physical and emotional. She is the action - the scifi, sets, and script are just furnishings.
MARJORIE PRIME runs through 23 February at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Avenue, Toronto.
For more information or to buy tickets, click here.
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz