THEATRE REVIEW OF COAL MINE THEATRE PRODUCTION
Marjorie Prime appears like a simple, naturalistic, low-key family drama. It takesplace in an ordinary kitchen where Walter (Condon Hecht), a well-dressed man istalking very nicely to Marjorie (the great Martha Henry) an old woman seated ina comfortable chair.
Author JordanHarrison dispels all these notions systematically and leaves us with anextraordinary play about dementia, memory, family dynamics, death andreincarnation. The latter is a rather special kind. We are in the latter partof the 21st century and a human being can be brought back to “life”after death and communicate with his or her loved ones.
Walter is a man of about thirty who has been dead for about tenyears. He has been brought back as he was at age thirty and he is talking withhis wife Marjorie who has advanced dementia. The scene may appear realistic,but it is in fact out of this world.
The Walter wesee is a robot that we realize absorbs whateverinformation it is given, especially memories,and he reminisces with his wife about “the good old days.” The issue here isthat memories of those days may have little to do with what actually happenedbut reality is irrelevant. We remember whatever our brain has retained andtransformed into our current reality.
Marjorie’sdaughter Tess (Sarah Dodd) has difficulties with her mother and herrelationship with the robot who is just like her father in his youth. Her husbandJon (Beau Dixon) is more tolerant.
I do not wish togive much more information about the plot for fear of spoiling it for you. Iwill say that it develops organically and there are significant twists. Realityis elusive and we are not entirely sure of where we are. Harrison gives us plentyof clues but most of them become obvious in retrospect.
Martha Henrygives a stellar performance as Marjorie. Her acting is nuanced, understated andsuperb. Marjorie relives her early days with Walter when they used to go themovies and when he proposed to her. The “memories” whether they are true ornot, have a therapeutic value, it seems, because by “remembering” she somehowkeeps dementia at bay, at least in part.
Beau Dixon’s Jonis a decent man who understands more than his wife the value of keeping“memories” alive. Sarah Dodd gives a superb performance as the troubled Tess.There are memories of life with her parents, herchildren and her deeply troubled present. The emotional climax of the play andsome of the most dramatic scenes are hers.
The small CoalMine Theatre is turned into a theatre-in-the-middle with seats on each side andthe playing area in the centre. The set by designer Gillian Callow consists ofa simple kitchen/seating area.
The direction byStewart Arnott is detailed and impeccable. He manages to maintain realism in anunrealistic play and take us to another world without our suspecting that he isdoing it. Marvellous work.
A note ofrecognition for the Coal Mine Theatre’s unfailing ability to choose outstandingplays, often by unknown authors. “Chief Engineers”Diana Bentley and Ted Dykstra must have the most sensitive and far-reachingnoses for high quality drama anywhere. They find it and bring it to thetheatrical Mecca of Danforth Avenue in the huge 80-seat Coal Mine Theatre.
MarjoriePrime by JordanHarrison opened on January 29 and will run until February23, 2020 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave. Toronto, M4J 1N4. www.coalminetheatre.com