Cast of ‘Marjorie Prime’ explores aging in the techno age at North Coast Repertory Theatre

Steve Froehlich, Dee Maaske, Elaine Rivkin and Gregory North star in the San Diego premiere of ‘Marjorie Prime’ at North Coast Repertory Theatre, now through Feb. 5.
(Aaron Rumley)

North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT) continues its Season 35 with the San Diego premiere of “Marjorie Prime,” a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, written by Jordan Harrison and directed by Matthew Wiener. The New York Times called the play “an elegant, thoughtful, quietly unsettling drama.”

“Marjorie Prime,” focuses on artificial intelligence that in the near future will treat dementia and depression in a surprising way. “Primes” — humanoid life-like robots — will be able to speak with patients in the form of lost loved ones and provide companionship for the lonely.

The script has been adapted into a film that will debut at the Sundance Festival this year, starring Jon Hamm, Tim Robbins, Geena Davis and Lois Smith.

Noted actress Dee Maaske said she is excited to portray Marjorie Prime in the NCRT production. Once a classical violinist, Maaske’s theatrical résumé spans performance halls in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. She has had more than 50 roles in 21 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In 2004, she was asked by Horton Foote to play Carrie Watts for his 50th anniversary production of “The Trip to Bountiful” at Hartford Stage Company and the Alley Theatre in Houston.

“Artistic director David Ellenstein called me about doing ‘Marjorie Prime’ at the North Coast Rep,” she explained. “I worked with his father, Robert Ellenstein, at the Arizona Theatre company and he was a remarkable teacher and actor I admired, and I knew both of his sons when they were young. It’s nice to reconnect with David, as well as to do this play with new cast members to work with.

“The script and its content are interesting ... particularly now that there’s a lot of attention being paid to changing our lifestyles,” Maaske said. “We see inventions all over the country now with virtual, mechanical and new scientific things that will help our lives — some, people would never have dreamed of! Though this idea is a little creepy, to me it’s a ‘What if?’ What if someone near you passes away and you could provide another person in their life with 10 more years to be there for them!

“This is a play that deals with character studies and it has interesting characters, I think that’s why it won a nomination for a Pulitzer,” Maaske said. “All three of the actors in this production are great to work with. Elaine Rivkin plays my daughter, who has moved me (at age 85) to her West Coast home, which she shares with her husband. She and I have twists and turns that are interesting. I think many of the audience members will find this thought-provoking and initiate some stimulating conversations after they leave the theater.

“Sometimes people tend to forget that older people have sensuous thoughts — they like a good drink, joke, conversation — and the more we do such with them, the better off they are.” The cast also includes Steve Froelich and Gregory North. (Diana Saenger contributed to this report.)

IF YOU GO: “Marjorie Prime,” runs Jan. 11 through Feb. 5 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets from $43. (858) 481-1055.

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