For its inaugural play, the city’s newest theatrical company, Bloomsbury House Stage Productions, takes its audience into a Jordan Harrison future in which we might not only reminisce with ourselves, we also share our memories with androids who look a lot like our loved ones did in days gone by.
Marjorie Prime, which opened Thursday night (Aug. 8) at Walkerville’s Sho Spirit, Art and Performance’s Dance Hall theatre, is somewhat torn from today’s headlines. Right now, much talk in technical circles is about artificial intelligence. Although certainly not new, computer technologists are finding unique ways for computers to become as intelligent as their human masters. With this premise taken to the future, Marjorie Prime delivers a considerable immediacy and even shines a spotlight on how we can expect to deal with grief.
Using a technology to help the 80 something Marjorie accept her fading memory, she spends time reciting her passages to an android who is embedded with the right AI to understand her memories so she will not have to worry about forgetting.
Carly Morrison-Hart, who shared director duties with Martin Ouellette, admits her company’s selection of Marjorie did come without some risks, the most prominent is its small cast. Local theatre goers seem to prefer, she told Eyes on Windsor, large productions with equally large assemblies of actors.
A proper counter argument, judging by the outright success generated with Marjorie Prime, rests on both the intimacy of the Dance Hall Theatre and the ability it gave its four-member cast to really do what actors do best, showing a wide range of emotions.
It was really no surprise to see Joey Ouellette precisely nail the role of John Brodie, Marjorie’s son-in-law. Poignant is his justifiably emotional outburst when he loses his wife. Things had not been going all that well in the marriage, burdened a bit with the care and handling required of his mother-in-law Marjorie.
Ouellette holds his character tightly to an almost non-assuming personality. His wife, Tess, on the other hand, played adroitly with ground level emotion by Kim Babb, uses nothing if not an economy of words aided by the nuances of her acting, to convey her true failings.
This is of considerable contrast to the first android. Martin Ouellette has one of the plays most challenging parts, that of long departed Walter, Marjorie’s husband. There are no doubt options but Ouellette chooses to act and speak in a manner with just a tad bit of robotic inelasticity and certainly not in the style of, say, Mr. Roboto. To his role he adds genuine empathy causing the audience to almost forget he is a technological apparition.
The next android to appear, on the left side of the stage, is a significant challenge for Allison Still who plays both the aging Marjorie and then her younger android. Still brings to the second role a commandingly clear voice without robotic enunciation and without the halting nature she showed so expressively as grandmother Marjorie. What is even more substantial was the considerable use of make-up to turn the occasional Marilyn Monroe impersonator into a woman not long for this world.
Harrison has a peculiar view of aging. Marjorie has a particular distaste of showers. Is that what happens when we age? Obviously, Harrison has structured a view of the future as its seniors living an almost concluded journey stuffed with memories and the odd need for a shower.
Harrison scriptwriting earned him a runner-up position for a 2015 Pulitzer Prize. It is a clever script loaded with no missed tender moments that works doubly hard to bring into question the real meaning of a life, which leads to a most retrospective ending, one that should not be missed.
The play will continue August 9, 10, 15, 16, & 17. It is staged by Carly Morrison-Hart and Martin Ouellette with additional production and direction by Alexandra Hristoff. Showtimes are 8pm each night. Tickets are $25 general admission.
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.