Thursday, May 10, 2018

Memory plays key role in 'Marjorie Prime" at Marin Theatre Company

Joy Carlin (left) is Marjorie, and Julie Eccles is her daughter, Tess. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

An 85-year-old woman whose memory is fading has a new companion.

It’s a sophisticated hologram, or Prime, representing her late husband, Walter (Tommy Gorrebeeck), when he was 30 years old in Jordan Harrison’s “Marjorie Prime,” presented by Marin Theatre Company.

The woman, Marjorie (Joy Carlin), lives with her daughter, Tess (Julie Eccles), and son-in-law, Jon, (Anthony Fusco). The year is 2062.

The Prime can be programmed with her memories and remind her of them in hopes of retaining those she has and regaining some she may have lost.

But how accurate are those memories? It depends on who’s feeding them to Walter, who in turn feeds them back to her.

Some of them go back to the night Walter proposed and later to Tess’s childhood and the family’s dogs. One memory that goes unsaid is older brother’s suicide when he was 13.

Because of Marjorie’s grief over his death, Tess felt neglected, a feeling that has carried over as anger.

Tess keeps hoping that somehow Marjorie can express love for her, but not so. That is, not until after Marjorie’s death, when she’s seen as a Prime trying to help Tess overcome her grief. Later, Tess herself becomes a Prime.

Although everything currently is in the realm of science fiction, it’s not entirely far-fetched, given the role that artificial intelligence plays in everyday life for many people.

Harrison’s play doesn’t clearly spell everything out, requiring careful attention by the audience. Reading the program notes beforehand is helpful.

So, too, are Ken Rus Schmoll’s direction and a superb Bay Area cast led by Carlin, who seemingly embodies Marjorie’s failing faculties as well as her lively personality in her better moments.

In one scene, for example, Jon plays music for her. Formerly a classical violinist, she immediately recognizes it as “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” and describes what the music is saying.

Eccles captures Tess’s brittle qualities and neediness, while Fusco’s Jon serves as a balance and loving peacemaker. The smooth Gorrebeeck makes Walter pleasant and almost human.

The simple set is by Kimie Nishikawa, lighting by Michael Palumbo, sound by Brendan Aames and costumes by Jessie Amoroso.

Running about 80 minutes with no intermission, this intriguing drama will continue through May 27 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208 or visit