Marya Sea Kaminski’s flagship year as Artistic Director brought a couple nuggets of fire to the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 2019. One was butts in seats, two was interesting theater that stretched beyond the traditional catalogue and demographic. Marjorie Prime, which was also directed by Kaminski, is an ode to love, anger, technology and our need to marriage all of it into one very confusing dystopian cocktail of malaise and dissatisfaction.
The play takes place in a futuristic, and wonderfully appointed set reminiscent of a drunken shopping spree at Ikea. The undertone is haunting in nature as the cast interacts with technology in a way that shudders our fundamental belief of death and rebirth. The story follows a family coping with death from every angle, and their relentless pursuit of a truth through interacting with replacement companion bots, called primes.
The journey is as sad as it is strange. A solemn tribute to the people we are joined with by blood and through choice. All the things that are never said in reality, now live in a virtual world that learns as we speak our own truths…albeit thinly veiled in angst.
The discovery is that we are not, in fact, loving beings, but fragmented creatures who misinterpret love on an endless journey of self-awareness through another. But the prime can see through the frosted glass of lovingly hating another. It does not want nor need love. They’re not mentally undulating through a Dickensian romance, but processing facts as told by the foremost purveyor of memories.
But therein lies the problem. Can the family replace the faulted love they share as humans with a virtual rendition of their palace of lies? A tragically perfect course of events will shape the future of their lives, and reinforce our distracted and cheap love affair with blind emotions and technology.
Jill Tanner as Marjorie played her role as the overtly, yet subtle mother dearest with style and grace. Her fragmented and perilous trek through the mind of loss, fear, and a truth that we will all face comes to light in a very raw and unsettling way. At one point, the theater was at a gasp with at the truest form of reality.
Daina Michelle Griffith as Tess, daughter of Marjorie, and cohort of destructive mental gymnastics, understood and expressed her role with fervor and an undeniable pain that ripped through the audience. As she struggled with guilt, hate, love, and self worth, she spiraled down a nefarious hurricane that would test the fabric of her ascent to mental clarity. Griffith’s anguish was palpable and masterfully constructed.
Nathan Hinton as Jon, husband of Tess, optimist prime (pun), and general do gooder, was the Switzerland of the stage. His even-tempered aura managed a whirlwind of emotion through loss while providing a cerebral balancing point for the audience. Hinton was steadfast in his delivery, showing vulnerability through his understanding and joy.
Overall, Marjorie Prime was a well-done, very strange play. It left me feeling weird inside, as if I had seen something I shouldn’t have. Did I get a sneak peek into the future? Did I just see into my future? I think yes to both. This was yet another daring adaption from Kaminski, but as I look back at the season as a whole, it was all about risks, but more than anything, it was about theater, and those who enjoy it.
Marjorie Prime plays through June 30th. For more information, click here