Thursday, September 22, 2016

Nora Theatre Company Presents "Marjorie Prime" by Jordan Harrison - A Memorable Play About Memory - Through October 9th


"Marjorie Prime" by Jordan Harrison is the latest play in the continuing series jointly curated by The Nora Theatre Company and the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT.  Thoughtfully directed by M. Bevin O'Gara, this play is deeply thought-provoking as well as profoundly moving as it explores many levels of the intersection between science and art. The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and for good reason.  It is beautifully written and innovative, exploring a scenario in the not-too-distant future in which humanoid robots  - Primes - can re-create loved ones whose death we are grieving. The Prime becomes a companion to the grieving person, learning more and more details about the life of the person whose life they are recapitulating and "remembering." 

The playwright leads us through deep reflections on the nature of memory - both human and computer.  We see examples of memories held, lost and rekindled. Along the way, themes are touched upon that question the nature of artificial intelligence and the presence or absence of emotion in robots (and their human analogs!).  There is also the metaphysical question about the meaning of life: Is it more then just "a distraction while we wait for death"?

The creative team for this production provide strong support for the work of the playwright, the director and cast. Sarah Brown has designed a gorgeous set that offers a glimpse into the home where Marjorie (Sarah deLima), an 85 year-old widow, lives out her days with the companionship of a Prime of her late husband, Walter (Alejandro Simoes), as he looked in his 30s. Stopping by to bring groceries, medication and cloying oversight is middle-aged daughter, Tess (Lee Mikeska Gardner) and her long-suffering husband, Jon (Barlow Adamson). Effective lighting is designed by Wen-Ling Liao, Costumes by Penney Pinette and Sound by Arshan Gailus.

There are some interesting plot twists that I do not want to spoil, but as the action progresses, Marjorie dies and a Marjorie Prime has been provided to assist Tess in her complex grieving over a mother with whom she has a complicated and ambivalent relationship. Later in the story, we learn that Tess herself has died, and Jon has been given a Tess Prime to help him in his grief.

The acting is universally superb. With the exception of Mr. Adamson, whose work is multi-layered as Jon, each of the other three actors are called upon to portray automatons who are striving towards presenting themselves as more and more human as they acquire more textured memories of the departed person whom they are emulating.  This is a unique acting challenge, and Ms. deLima, Ms. Gardner and Mr. Simoes rise to the challenge beautifully and evocatively. These are wonderfully nuanced performances by four fine actors. The playwright cleverly uses the conceit of the Primes being programmed over time to acquire more and more memory as a device to offer exposition and back stories about the lives of Marjorie, Tess and Walter.

Alejandro Simoes as Walter
Sarah deLima as Marjorie
"Marjorie Prime" by Jordan Harrison
The Nora Theatre Company
Central Square Theater
Through October 9th
Issues of impending death, repressed memories of death, and suicide are woven into the fabric of this rich tale. The nature of what it means to be human is thrown into focus when Tess and Marjorie Prime engage in a tense encounter. Tess accuses the Prime: "You are trying to become more human!" Marjorie Prime retorts: "And so are you!" It is a pivotal moment in the play that reveals an important continuing motif about our universal struggle to achieve a meaningful level of humanity.

This is a play you do not want to miss.  Come prepared and "primed" to have your mind challenged and your heart strings plucked. It is a play that will long live in your memory.

Central Square Theater Website

Enjoy!

Al

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review of "Trotsky In New York - 1917" by Kenneth D. Ackerman


I have long been fascinated by the Russian Revolution and the events leading up to it.  So when I learned that Kenneth D. Ackerman had written "Trotsky In New York 1917 - A Radical On The Eve of Revolution" I was eager to read it.

Trotsky, his common-law wife and their two boys had been exiled from several European nations, and for a few months in the winter of 1917, found safe harbor in America.  During the tumultuous weeks that he was in New York, the zealot jumped into the middle of the fractured world of the American Socialist movement.  He wrote for the newspaper Novy Mir, spoke wherever he could find an audience, and corresponded with other Russians back in Europe. He was carrying on a feud with Lenin - a basic Bolshevik vs. Menshevik dust-up - and people in NYC were reporting back to Lenin what Trotsky was doing and saying.

When the Revolution broke out in St. Petersburg, many Russians, including Trotsky and his family, made moves to get back home and join in the growing movement. So his tenure in America was short-lived and was quickly overtaken by events, but it proved to be a crucial chapter in his career. The author examines those weeks from several fascinating perspectives.  I found the book instructive, and have promised to pass it along to a Russian friend who is intrigued to learn about this little known aspect of Trotsky's dramatic life and career.

Enjoy!

Al