Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Marjorie Prime
Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of American Idiot, 110 in the Shade, and Moment


Kathleen Butler and Michael Glenn
Photo by Nicholas Griner
The Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington has staged a lovely, moving production of Marjorie Prime, Jordan Harrison's exquisite play about memory and the meaning of being human. Jason Loewith, Olney's Artistic Director, also directed this chamber piece in the black box Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, where every quietly devastating line and action can be heard and seen easily.

In Harrison's play, a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, Marjorie (the radiant Kathleen Butler) is in her 80s and slipping into dementia. Her daughter Tess (Julie-Ann Elliott) and son-in-law Jon (Michael Willis) are trying out a high-tech way to help Marjorie: Walter Prime (Michael Glenn), a hologram who resembles Marjorie's late husband as he looked 50 years earlier, programmed to remember pertinent information and repeat it back to her. The audience sees the process as Walter retells memories of the couple's past, Marjorie amends the story, then Walter picks up the new information and the story changes.

The playwright is vague about exactly when this is taking place, although there is a comment calling an iPod "old-school" and Marjorie refers to pop music from her past that Tess and Jon don't recognize. Micha Kachman's scenic design is a no-frills modern living room complete with floor-to-ceiling windows revealing a wooded exterior; the scenes span the seasons while Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" plays.

In its quiet way and 80-minute running time, Harrison's characters take on serious questions. Is it kinder to allow a person to forget a painful loss or does the forgetting remove something important from the person's life? (The musical Next to Normal covers similar ground.) How much can one person ever know about another? When a Prime doesn't act the way its model did, is that a good or bad thing?

Loewith has ably guided four actors who understand how to convey both the everyday concerns and the unexpected turns that life can take. Butler, with her wide-open face and expressive eyes, reveals the unsettling contradictions of a woman feeling her awareness fading away. Glenn is charmingly bland, while Elliott shows the conflicts of a woman left with difficult memories no one shares and Willis is warm and empathetic.

Olney Theatre Center
Marjorie Prime
March 10th - April 10th
By Jordan Harrison
Marjorie: Kathleen Butler
Walter: Michael Glenn
Tess: Julie-Ann Elliott
Jon: Michael Willis
Directed by Jason Loewith
Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD Box office: 301-924-3400 or www.olneytheatre.org


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