By James Fortiano
Cambridge, MA – Looking at my ticket for an opening week performance by the Nora Theatre Company of Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime, I’m wondering whether I was more entertained or simply mildly intrigued.
I’d choose intrigued. I’ll be up front — I’m a good times guy. I like to be entertained, or at least transported somewhere else for the duration of an 90-minute, no intermission play.
It was a heady play, for me, as in, ‘What exactly is happening right now on stage?’ The main characters seemed to be mostly confused, and/or in some mental pain — or otherwise ambiguously situated. More on that later.
No mystery, since the four players consist of an 85-year-old grandmother suffering from fading memory, her daughter and daughter’s husband, scrambling to make her and themselves comfortable in the same narrow household, and a futuristic personage — read a robot, who looks and plays as “real,” especially since he’s a real actor, but is programmed to represent all the memories and desires of grandmother Marjorie’s 30-year-old husband who passed away some years ago.
It is intriguing to think that in the future not only will we wave a hand to hear whatever music we’re thinking of at home in symphonic quality, but we’ll never have to leave loved ones behind, since they’ll accompany us, for a fee, for a robot to represent, as humanely as possible, old lovers, mothers and wives, forever.
Intrigued as I was by this premise, and as entertained as I was by Alejandro Simoes as the striving robot, Walter, the angst of daughter Tess, played by Lee Mikeska Gardner, her husband Jon’s counter-angst, played by Barlow Adamson, and the stellar performance of Sarah deLima as the ever-changeable grandmom, Marjorie, now a captive of fantasy, now cannily present to her own and other’s foibles, I had continuing troubles adding up my thoughts to follow where I was being taken.
Later, another ‘robot’ is spawned by the grandmom’s passing to comfort her daughter and help Tess to settle old issues. Then, when Tess herself passes, her husband Jon resurrects her as robot #3 to comfort him. I was ready to pony up for my own robot to “comfort” me.
Now that I’m explaining it all to myself, and, I hope, at least partially to you, dear readers, I’m wondering why the entertainment value, for me at least, lagged significantly behind what I found intriguing. There were moving scenes of pathos and loss, but more scenes when I was feeling sorry for myself, and lost.
The Nora Theatre Company ambitiously pairs with MIT to introduce theater-goers to a “doorway” or connection between science and the humanities. Perhaps, since MIT has the dough and ambition, there could have been a few “robots” strolling in the lobby to chat us up and introduce us to this future world about to be portrayed, so ambitiously, on stage.
Perhaps there could be tables for two or three or four strangers to meet in the lobby after the play and “entertain” themselves unpacking the knotty impressions they gathered from the stage play.
The audience, as a whole, seemed appreciative to a stand-up-and-clap degree. I think that perhaps half of them were from MIT, working in artificial intelligence. And the other half, this being Cambridge, were therapists who enjoy mightily poring over the mental quirks of us all in any situation — present, past or future!
(The Nora Theatre Company’s production of “Marjorie Prime” continues through October 9 at the Central Square Theater, 450 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, Mass. For more information, call (617) 576-9278 or visit CentralSquareTheater.org.)