Memory — deep-seated, fragile, slippery, mutable — is at the heart of Jordan Harrison’s “Marjorie Prime.” A Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2015, the play is a family tragicomedy given a sci-fi makeover; in other words, this thought-provoking theater piece charts its own, fresh path.
Now getting its South Florida premiere as the second professional production from the Main Street Players, a Miami Lakes troupe that began 43 years ago as a community theater, “Marjorie Prime” imagines a world in which technology can help anesthetize grief.
Set in the mid-21st century, the play focuses on a multi-generation household: 85-year-old Marjorie (Carol Sussman), her intense daughter Tess (Fara Sax) and her amiable son-in- law Jon (Harry Marsh).
Like many an elderly woman, the widowed Marjorie can be confused and irritable, uncooperative when it comes to taking care of herself, lonely in a world in which she feels like a burden. But unlike similar women today, Marjorie has the comforting recourse of a companion called Walter Prime (Chris D’Angelo).
Although he’s the spitting image of Marjorie’s late husband at the age of 30, Walter is, in fact, an android supplied by the Senior Serenity company. Created to look and sound like a departed loved one, the android is programmed with memories supplied by the client and family members. Absorbing information from Marjorie’s conversations, Walter Prime repurposes the memories into comforting stories. He cajoles, he calms, he encourages. So much better than leaving Mom parked in front of the TV all day.
Harrison skillfully weaves the family’s history and differing memories throughout the script, so that a multifaceted picture of life-altering tragedy gradually emerges. Laughter and lightness are interspersed with the shadows, but we come to understand just why Tess is so brittle and why parent-child dysfunction is hard-wired into this family.
Though he inserts an unnecessary intermission into what would otherwise be a brisk 80-minute play, director John Olivera has shaped a production that for the most part allows the audience to savor Harrison’s observant, comic, clever writing.
Set and lighting designer Amanda Sparhawk creates a sleek, minimalist, low-tech environment that suggests a throwback hominess rather than a futuristic society capable of producing an android as complex as the Prime.
The women in the cast get the acting challenge of playing two versions of their characters. Sussman’s first Marjorie is agitated and sometimes mentally adrift, a woman grappling with dementia; later, she’s more pleasant and eager to be of service to Tess. Sax’s Tess evolves from a prickly woman to one in the throes of a frightening depression; at last, she’s Jon’s pleasant confidante.
Marsh makes Jon warm and solicitous, the sort of guy who didn’t mind serving as “human morphine” for his mother-in-law. D’Angelo’s Walter Prime is a low-key charmer, ready to adapt to any new or altered memory Marjorie throws his way.
Main Street’s “Marjorie Prime” doesn’t hit the level of its first professional effort, “Real Women Have Curves.” But theatergoers who surrender to Harrison’s imaginative world will leave with much to ponder about memory, aging and the quicksand of family dynamics.
If You Go
What: ‘Marjorie Prime’ by Jordan Harrison.
Where: Main Street Playhouse, 6766 Main St., Miami Lakes.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 7.
Cost: $30 ($25 for students, seniors and military personnel).
Information: 305-558- 3737 or www.mainstreetplayers.coms