Dystopian “Marjorie Prime” examines death, memory, artificial intelligence

Jamie Jones (left), Janis Stevens (center) and Brock D. Vickers in "Marjorie Prime." [Photo by Kara Goldberg]

Capitol Stage’s production of Marjorie Prime poses unsettling questions on death, artificial intelligence and the fluid, sometimes malleable, nature of memory. With deeply layered writing and performances, as well as a steadfast gaze on the issues we try so hard to ignore, Jordan Harrison’s 2015 Pulitzer finalist does not let the viewer relax.

In the not-so-far-off future, octogenarian Marjorie (Janis Stevens) is slowly losing her mind. As a way to soothe her mother’s creeping dementia, Marjorie’s daughter Tess (Jamie Jones) buys her a robot–or Prime.

This isn’t just any robot. He almost completely human, taking the form her husband–now deceased, but handsome and youthful–appearing some 50 years younger than Marjorie today.

Marjorie’s prime keeps her occupied and sedate, re-telling stories of her youth which either she has fed it, or which her daughter and son-in-law, Jon (Steven Sean Garland), have planted in the prime.

The Prime (Brock D. Vickers, left) and Marjorie (Janis Stevens) recount her more youthful years.

But Tess does not trust the Prime provided to her mother, and she has difficulty understanding its utility. She views it as not human, but as a backboard of the information fed to it. Indeed, we find that Prime will sometimes feed inaccurate information fed to it by Jon to Marjorie without hesitation.

Family dynamics take a central role, as a historically strained relationship reveals itself between Marjorie and Tess. And as much as Jon serves as a patient and tempered buffer for his wife and mother-in-law, years of tension cannot be undone, particularly with Marjorie’s declining health.

The production quickly takes an unexpected turn that examines loss and humanity, as well as technology’s relationship with both.

Marjorie Prime is dark and jarring. Unlike the Sacramento region’s more uplifting recent productions (think Man of La Mancha and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe), Capitol Stage marches assuredly to its own beat in the company’s insistence this season to ruminate on difficult truths.

Jon (Steven Sean Garland) and Tess (Jamie Jones) in Marjorie Prime.


A common thread of discourse throughout is the island nation of Madagascar. One of the most remote inhabited places on earth, it is renowned for its untouched natural settings and uniquely evolved fauna. Set against the backdrop of such overtly advanced technology, it is a striking theme of dialogue.

Toward the end, someone mentions that Madagascar is inhabited by penguins. Peculiar, as they are not indigenous to the solitary island. Scientists believe they were brought there by exploring sailors centuries ago.

But today, all that remains of the explorers are those penguins.


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Dave Kempa
Editor at VOICES: River City
Dave Kempa is the founder and editor of VOICES: River City.