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Essay

Selected Works: Jordan Harrison

Introduction by Adam Greenfield, Associate Artistic Director
Descriptions by Helena Pennington, Literary Fellow 

Taken individually, it’s hard to fathom how Jordan Harrison’s plays could come from the same writer; each play is a unique, idiosyncratic landscape, a sharp and unexpected turn from his previous works. But when looking at his anthology to date, one can’t help but be struck by the repeated obsessions and reveries that all of his plays share. As a collection, they reflect a writer with an ecstatic love for language; a writer whose distrust of the future is betrayed only by his relentless pursuit of it; whose approach to each subject he takes on, however adult the subject may be, seems to carry a child’s sense of wonder and awe; whose characters travel between two divergent realities, both equally real, in search of a richer, more complex perception of the world. 

Kid-Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh 
2005 

Boundless energy and tremendous humor propel this sharp-witted riff on the radio play, which kicks into high gear when Moll wins the high school science fair with a machine that can make sense of sounds undetectable by the human ear — and then finds herself compelled to embark on a world-spanning quest to save noise as we know it.

Finn and the Underworld 
2005 

This spooky and sharply observed drama follows two adult sisters as they pack up their recently passed father’s lonesome country home, only to find themselves caught in the middle of an unfinished ghost story, haunted by the mystery-enshrouded misdeeds of their father’s youth. 

Amazons and Their Men 
2008 

Inspired by the life of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, this harrowing, historically minded drama illuminates the murky intersection of art, ambition, and moral ambivalence in 1939 Germany.

Futura 
2011 

In this gripping, high-octane paean to the written word, Harrison imagines a dystopian future in which paper — and books — have become obsolete, and all of the knowledge in the world threatens to fall under the control of a single, omnipresent governmental entity. Only a small luddite resistance remains.

Maple and Vine 
2011 

In this uncanny fable of the digital age, one chronically unhappy couple decides to renounce their smartphones and other anxiety-inducing “luxuries” of the 21st century in favor of a simpler way of life — by joining a closed community that meticulously recreates suburban America circa 1955. 

The Museum Play 
2006 

What’s a museum curator to do when the mastodon exhibit wanders away, and other rare flora and fauna begin to follow suit? Jame scrambles to construct a replacement exhibit in this gently absurd, lyrical play, which shines a bright light on the all-too-human urge to catalog, collect, and preserve. 

Act a Lady 
2006 

A joyfully metatheatrical tale of one prohibition-era small town’s decision to put on a play obligating the menfolk of the community to don “fancy-type, women-type clothes.” Hijinks ensue, hearts are mended, and gender expectations are turned on their heads in this rollicking love-letter to the transformative power of performance. 

Doris to Darlene: A Cautionary Valentine 
2007 

Harrison deftly intertwines three impossible love stories in this tenderhearted, time-jumping tribute to Richard Wagner’s operatic masterpiece, Liebestod, resulting in a pop fairytale that traces the dreams and disasters behind this one transcendent song. 

The Grown-Up 
2014 

A young boy discovers a magic doorknob that catapults him forward through time — and his little sister vows to bring him home — in this wondrous, achingly compassionate tale of adventure. 

Marjorie Prime 
2014 

It’s the age of artificial intelligence, and 85-year-old Marjorie has a handsome new AI companion programmed to record her memories, even as her own power of recollection begins to fade. In this Pulitzer Prize finalist — and now, feature film — Harrison explores the mysteries of human identity and the limits of what technology can replace. 

The Amateurs 
2018 

Set against the vivid backdrop of 14th century Europe, this stunningly ambitious multipart drama follows an itinerant troupe of actors as they attempt to outrun the spread of the bubonic plague — culminating in a metatheatrical meditation on the role of artists and storytellers in times of crisis. 

 

Photo credits: Kid-Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh – photo from the Humana Festival production. Finn and the Underworld – photo from the Berkeley Rep production. Amazons and Their Men – photo from the Clubbed Thumb production. Futura– photo from the Portland Center Stage production. Maple and Vine – photo from the Playwrights Horizons production. The Museum Play – photo from the Washington Ensemble Theatre production. Act a Lady – photo from the Humana Festival production. Doris to Darlene: A Cautionary Valentine – photo from the Playwrights Horizons production. The Grown-Up – photo from the Humana Festival production. Marjorie Prime – photo from the Playwrights Horizons production. The Amateurs – photo from The Vineyard production.