There’s no doubt that modern technology has forever changed the way humans interact with one another.
Social media, cell phones and artificial intelligence have made it easier to stay connected virtually with loved ones, express our emotions, share our big life events and fulfill our natural need to belong — even if only superficially.
However, as technology continues to advance, how do we find balance between connecting to one another online and in real life?
That’s the question Theatre B explores in its production of “Marjorie Prime,” now open at the theater’s new location at 215 10th St. N. in Moorhead.
Written by Jordan Harrison, “Marjorie Prime” takes place in the near future when artificial intelligence has advanced to lifelike simulations called “Primes” that assist the aging with memory retention. The story centers on Marjorie (Pam Strait), an 85-year-old woman living with her daughter Tess (Monika Browne-Ecker). As Marjorie battles memory loss, Tess and her husband Jon (Jay Taylor) purchase a Prime named Walter (Mik Reid) to help Marjorie remember and keep her company.
But Walter is more than a virtual companion; he’s the Prime version of Marjorie’s late husband, portrayed as his 30-year-old self to remind Marjorie of “happier” days.
Walter’s presence further exacerbates Tess and Marjorie’s turbulent relationship, says Director Darcy Bakkegard.
“As much as this play is about artificial intelligence, it’s also about how we as humans process grief and how we deal with emotions that linger after a loved one dies,” she explains.
Primes in the story, like Walter, are programmed to simulate human responses and gather information about their character from a loved one after their human counterpart passes away.
Actor Mik Reid as Walter Prime. Photo by Kensie Wallner Photography.
Because of this, the story also explores mortality and how humans choose which memories they want to live on after their death — and which memories they choose to forget.
“What’s particularly painful for me is that one of the fundamental goals for humans is to be happy, and so the Primes are there in part to help with that,” Bakkegard says. “The saddest thing for me is when the characters are finally happy, it’s when they’re in their Prime form.”
Theatre B ensemble member Pam Strait is enjoying the challenge of portraying Marjorie, a self-absorbed woman who is difficult to sympathize with, she says.
“I love the challenge of playing the age and the challenge of being someone who is so different than me,” she says. “Playing a character that isn’t sympathetic is hard. But still caring about them and hoping other people will open their hearts and care about them is much harder.”
Mother and daughter Tess (Monika Browne-Ecker) and Marjorie (Pam Strait). Photo by Kensie Wallner Photography.
Strait is certain that anyone who comes to the show will relate to it in some way.
“This (show) is going to reach into people’s souls. It’s going to scare people on an elemental level,” she says. “Not in the way that (Theatre B’s production of) ‘1984’ did, but in a personal way that makes you have to have a conversation with people that you love.”
Bakkegard hopes that’s exactly what audience members do after they see the show.
“I hope they have a conversation, first and foremost, with their loved ones while they are here rather than waiting until it’s too late,” she says.
Theatre B’s production of “Marjorie Prime” is 90 minutes long with no intermission. Audio Description is available Feb. 23 and the American Sign Language performance is Feb. 24.