The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Luis David Molina Rueda

Marjorie Prime: The Public Theater Brings Dystopian Artificial Intelligence to Lewiston

I almost missed this show, and I wish I had seen it earlier to tell other folks to go watch it. But no such luck! Getting my tickets a couple of hours before and going to watch on the closing weekend, I showed up at The Public Theater in Lewiston again. This time, I went to watch Marjorie Prime. Right before Gala, out of all nights I could have gone. Am I a mess? I guess that is irrelevant. Warning, this review contains plot spoilers!

I wanted to start this review by saying the show was executed professionally as everything I have seen at The Public so far, raised some really intriguing questions, and had a distinctly Black Mirror vibe. That is the same as to say that you missed out. But do not panic! Doing some research about the show, I found out there is this super indie Sundance film about it that came out in 2017. The screenplay is adapted from the original Pulitzer finalist theater script by Jordan Harrison. Harrison (fun-fact time) writes for Orange is the New Black and is one of those cool dudes that gets a bunch of art fellowships. Versatility in navigating different media when writing is a thing, my friend.

Pleasantries aside, the play takes us on a journey to the age of artificial intelligence to 2062. Marjorie, comically played by Broadway actress Diana Findlay, talks to a holographic version of her deceased husband Walter (Jackson Thompson), who is programmed to satisfy Marjorie’s companionship needs. This, though kind of Black Mirror-y and cool on a screen, is pretty creepy to watch on a stage. The story unwinds to present Marjorie’s daughter Tess (Mhari Sandoval) and her husband Jon (Russell Berrigan). Tess hates having her mom talk to a holographic version of her dad, but funnily enough, once her mother passes away, she does the same. As Tess talks to the holographic version of her mom, she grows frustrated. On a trip to Madagascar with her husband, Tess also passes away, and now Jon gets a Tess Prime. By the end of the play, we have all the Primes (Walter, Marjorie and Tess) talking to each other and reminiscing about the lives of the memories of the real Walter, Marjorie, and Tess. Three, technically, man-made, human-looking creatures talk to each other about the lives they haven’t lived, but the lives of those whom they “represent.” Thank you, Mr. Harrison!

How do I go about this? Quite frankly, I thank Christopher Schario’s directorial choices for making it less of a creepy piece and turning the play into a comically pleasing experience. From beginning to end, as you learn the Primes to be futuristic non-human elements who need to be filled up with information to serve their owners, laughter comes about. The sharp acting of the Primes conveys the non-human idea through un-natural speech and awkward stares into the audience. Heavy on blue, white, green, and pink lighting design, the futuristic feeling is properly accomplished, while keeping it grounded enough in our time. Set and costume design did not fall short. Simplistically balanced to articulate the connection between our time and what we could expect from 2062, the house where the whole piece is run sells well, and the costumes worn by the characters look very grounded in our time, as to connect future and present.

Dystopian writing and entertainment are on the rise — cool and scary. You might have missed the theatrical fun this production entailed, but the film is out there. Check it out!

My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother: Speaks the Truth About Letting Go

Piling up a bunch of fancy clothes with plans to give them away to Goodwill’s sounds like a very charitable deed. The struggle, however, begins when you need to make a choice about what you let go and what you don’t. It is then that what you keep, whether it is clothes or not, triggers you to think of that past with your clothes and loved ones. Portland writer and educator Elizabeth Peavey comes to Lewiston this month to speak the truth about the inevitable circle of life, where the passing away of a mother can hit you hard.

Presented as a truthful comic solo piece written by Elizabeth Peavey herself and directed by Janet Mitchko, My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Best Drama. On Friday, November 10, I ventured off campus to experience this personal work firsthand. I was not disappointed.

Written and performed as a series of connected monologues that make up a one-woman show, Peavy’s piece walks its audience through her childhood, teenage, and adult relationship with her mom, to finally come to the present day. At the core of the play, a task is left for Peavy: rummaging through her mother’s clothes and possessions and sorting them. Possessions and material reveal themselves to be essential to Peavey, each superficial and superfluous piece of clothing a signifier for deeper emotions.

The clothes are only the trigger; the memories and history each piece of clothing represents the main action of the solo piece. Peavy takes us on a journey in which we meet her mother, Shirley Peavey, without actually seeing her person onstage. She talks about her mother in an ambivalent way; she hates on her as much as she remembers to love her. Words become harsh and, as she reflects on herself being the last child in the house for her parents, she bitterly remembers her parents telling her “they did the best they could” when they raised her. As Peavy’s narration progresses, her mother goes from an independent “super senior” to a hard-to-excite “condo mom.” Peavey becomes then the parent to the mother that once parented her, and she starts to gain a better understanding of why her mom used to say “we did the best we could.” Now, Peavey uses the same words her mom had used and realizes the difficulty of parenting the people that previously took care of you.

Though obviously more sympathetic to the Maine middle class population- for instance, she references places and situations 50 -year-old local middle class audiences can best understand – the tone set by Elizabeth Peavey in her narration of a lifetime with her mother is often skeptical of its target audience. As Peavey reminisces about her childhood, she starts singing Billy Murray’s A Man Without a Woman, a song that was taught to her as a child. It is in that song’s lines, in which women are compared to silver dollars that go from man to man, that Peavey reveals her desire to criticize the middle class mannerisms and sexist customs of her childhood.

My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother will be running at The Public Theater through November 19. As days get colder on campus, a visit to The Theater in Lewiston will help maintain that warmth of character.

 

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