Memory isn’t what it used to be… or rather, the lack of memory isn’t. Now it’s a crisis. Used to be what happened to your aging grandparents. Nowadays everyone is deathly afraid of losing their memory. Alzheimer meds are big business. Brain studies drive Big Pharma research, which translates to big bucks… and maybe a cure. There’s that hope anyway.
We now know how memory is stored and retrieved… and altered every time it’s called to mind. Here’s a genuine surprise: It turns out that memories are far from static. They’re reassembled with every recall—which may be what got Jordan Harrison thinking about how we’ll handle memory loss in the future. Harrison’s quirky, wildly imaginative play called MARJORIE PRIME (playing through Oct. 9th) is getting a thought provoking production at the Central Square Theater, sensitively directed for the Nora Company by M. Bevin O’Gara on a stunning set designed by Sara Brown.
Harrison gets at some thorny issues in MARJORIE PRIME, chiefly, how does one go on after the death of a loved one? The remedy, in the widow Marjorie’s case, is to have her husband back, recreated via Artificial Intelligence. This may seem capricious and harmless to us but some scientists (including theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking) see the potential for destruction if the very machines we’ve invited in to help us, end up viewing humans as the problem.
Marjorie is lovingly portrayed by Sarah deLima: She intuits the fragility—and the wit—of an 85 year old, capturing the woman’s keen awareness of her own frailty. Marjorie offhandedly suggests that losing memories is nature’s way of un-burdening us, making us lighter and thereby making it easier to leave this earth. (Come to think of it, what a lovely way to look at senility!) When she reminisces about the violin, though, tracing a Vivaldi melody in her mind and hands, our hearts are broken over the loss of her beloved music.
Alejandro Simoes is thoroughly delightful as her cheery “prime computer,” (i.e. the sophisticated robot programmed to be a youthful version of her late husband.) His charming performance is a delightful mixture of bewilderment, earnest determination and the eagerness of a puppy.
The playwright takes several side trips with the plot, introducing a big dose of family pathology, which in one instance is transferred mother to daughter for two different generations, and another which insures a legacy of relentless suffering and guilt. (I’m trying not to divulge particulars.) Once the play is concluded, we’re able to see the through line, but each jog is a bit of a jolt until you catch the rhythm. Lee Mikeska Gardner wears her daughterly exasperation like a heavy winter overcoat she cannot remove. The oppressive weight on her slender shoulders is palpable.
Perhaps the most difficult role in the play is Barlow Adamson’s as the kindest of son-in-laws, the long suffering husband and desperate help mate to the two women (and one more, an unseen daughter) at the center of his life. Adamson and deLima have a charming interplay and the drama’s sweetest moments.
Happily, director O’Gara manages to stave off gloom and doom in a play primarily about death, not an easy feat. Harrison ends the piece with a whimsical, even amusing interlude for the replicants. Or maybe Hawking was right. These artificial beings don’t need their humans any more to justify their existence.