Sunday, February 12, 2017

Marjorie Prime—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

“Windmills of the Mind”

This inventive production, written by Jordan Harrison and peopled by some of the core members of this company in the cast, is directed by Profile’s former Artistic Director, Adriana Baer.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through March 5th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

Several connections raced through my head after I saw this show, some of them random but, as its party about memory and its inner workings, I think appropriate…Flash--I am reminded of an old adage, that we all carry three secrets within us:  The first, a secret that you only relay to a close friend; next, one that you don’t tell anyone; and, three, a secret you aren’t even aware of yourself…Flash—King’s, “Pet Semetary,” where a child misses his pet so much, he is willing to risk a curse to bring it back to life…Flash—a crying child loses his coin down a sewer grate while people pass him by, unmoved.  Finally an Android witnesses this and hands the child another coin, as he thinks, and they say I am a unemotional machine…Flash—Scientists from all over the world hook up their computers to each other to create a Super-Brain.  They ask it, “Is there a God?”  After a moment, the answer, “There is now!”

So, such is the power of loss, of memory and the human brain, of sustaining Life, in any form, and Fear of the Unknown.  The time is more than a hundred years from now.  Remarkably, humans have managed to survive the turmoils of Today and opened up a whole new Vista for Tomorrow—a world where loved ones, via Primes (a type of Android), will replace the loss of a dear one in looks and memories.  Many authors have toyed with this type of concept over the years, notably Ray Bradbury (one of my favorite authors) with, “I Sing the Body Electric,” in which a grandmotherly type of Android helps to raise children after their mother has died.  But these Primes have the exact look and memories of loved ones.  The tricky part is, what fodder do you “feed” them and who does the “feeding?”

In this case Granny, Marjorie (Vana O’Brien), is 85 years old and is coming to the end of her natural life.  Sustaining her during this period are her combative daughter, Tess (Linda Alper), and her understanding son-in-law, Jon (Michael Mendelson).  But, perhaps, most helpful of all, is Walter Prime (Chris Harder), who is (we assume) an exact replica of her late husband at a younger age.   He reminds her of happier times, continuing dialogues with her of facts (?), he has been fed, of their lives together.

But, as time passes, Marjorie must “shuffle off her mortal coil” and give way to her Prime to continue the legacy.  Then, as Jon and Tess, separately at times, feed the Prime info, we see how delicate data is, when actual live beings infiltrate the process.  Our individual perceptions of events, as well as personal feelings and biases, tend to slant the Primes’s memories of actual events.  In some ways they become a type of therapist for the living and, as time passes, we may have a tendency to try to create a perfect being, perhaps, out of the Prime…a slippery slope.

More I cannot tell you, as there are discoveries an audience should make.  But a question might come to mind by the end.  If we will someday be engaged in trying to create a perfect replica of ourselves…our world…”Primes” may ask, why then do we need Humans…but, then again, if no Humans…where does the fodder for Primes come from?!  The old adage, perhaps of, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  It’s a dilemma.  Am I reading too much into this play, or not enough, or simply going in the wrong direction?  But, the best part of it is, the author has given us a whole range of “what ifs,” and so, like my friend Dave, who saw the show with me, one may be tempted to spend time afterwards discussing  those, “what ifs,”…and isn’t that the best of all outcomes to a story--to think, to discuss and to question?  One last thought that this play also points out, I believe, the need to make the most out of our short time upon this earth and to embrace all the positive possibilities.

Baer has given the actors much room for creation, as even the pregnant pauses are filled with ideas.  And she has a marvelous cast to work with, all of them pros.  Possibly the most difficult aspect of the characters they portray is, when some are enacting the Primes, they cannot betray emotion but only an “imitation” of it.  Not easy, but they do it with conviction, especially Harder.  And the set (Kristeen Willis Crosser), being that takes place in the future, could have become too overwhelming with gadgets and futuristic styles, but she has wisely chosen to keep it simple, so as not to distract from the story and actors.  Kudos to all involved…Primes and Humans!

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.