Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Marjorie PrimeAmerican Stage
William S. Oser | Season Schedule


Steven Sean Garland, Janis Stevens, Brock D. Vickers
and Jamie Jones

Photo by Joey Clay Photography
I can only be grateful to American Stage for bringing its audiences provocative modern dramas to end last season and this. Now it is Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime, described as science fiction, which I believe is not entirely accurate. Yes, it takes place in the future, and yes, it imagines where science may take us in the future, but unlike most of what I think of as science fiction, Mr. Harrison takes something that is already taking shape right before our eyes, artificial intelligence, and speculates how it might evolve.

Marjorie Prime first came to life in Los Angeles in 2014 at the Mark Taper Forum, then at Playwrights Horizons in New York a year later. In was later made into a movie directed by Michael Almereyda and starring Lois Smith, who played Marjorie at Playwrights Horizons. I can see where this play may divide audiences. I found it fascinating, and I am not surprised to find out that it was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.

The play takes place some 30 years into the future, where automatons or "primes" are commonplace, programmed with information to be stand-ins for deceased persons. Our heroine Marjorie, 86 and in early stages of dementia, interacts with the prime version of her late husband Walter—Walter Prime. Her daughter Tess and Tess's husband Jon watch over Marjorie, feeding the prime more information about Walter. The play brilliantly captures the complex relationships between mother and daughter (not easy), mother and son-in-law (less fraught with layers of "stuff" and minefields), and the relationship between wife and husband, as seen through the eyes of Marjorie. The family dynamics feel real and honest.

American Stage is offering a superb production in every way. Company stalwart (as both actress and director) Janis Stevens plays Marjorie with warmth and grace. Brock D. Vickers plays Walter Prime from curtain onward. It takes a few minutes to figure out that there is something not quite right about the character, just as the author wishes. Jamie Jones is Tess, Marjorie's daughter. It would be easy to dislike the character as there are clashes with her mother, no doubt drawn from years and years of mother/daughter relationship, but Ms. Jones keeps the audience at least partially on her side in a gentle performance. Steven Sean Garland, one of Tampa Bay's well regarded but mostly unheralded actors, is excellent as Jon, Tess's husband. It is time to recognize Mr. Garland for accumulated excellent performances over the years, a treasure. This is one of his best performances.

Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte directs this production and is also credited as sound designer. As time rolls on and we are midway through the second season that Ms. Gularte has chosen for American Stage and third overall, it has become clearer and clearer that she is doing a magnificent job for this company. Every production she has directed (and this one is no exception) has been vividly acted and clearly focused.

Jerid Fox does something with his scenic design that I have never seen at this theater. He raises the stage floor a few inches, which along with his design, gives the whole affair a sterile, slightly otherworldly sense, so perfect for this play. At the rear of the stage is a modern piece of graphic art which during blackouts between scenes lights up in a vivid array of purples and blues, almost taking on a life of itself, as set to music presumably chosen by Ms. Gularte, and lighting by Chris Baldwin. This is a major positive element in the production. Costumes by Gail Russell are effective. All of the technical elements work perfectly to make Marjorie Prime incredibly theatrical.

Marjorie Prime is another "wow" in a season that has been full of them. It is a challenging play, but I am guessing that American Stage audiences are up to it. Don't miss it!

Marjorie Prime, through April 1, 2018, at American Stage Theatre Company, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg FL. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.

Cast: Marjorie: Janis Stevens*
Walter: Brock D. Vickers*
Tess: Jamie Jones*
Jon: Steven Sean Garland*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association


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