Off-Broadway Review: SCARLETT DREAMS (Midnight Theatricals at Greenwich House Theater)

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by Charles Kruger on May 16, 2024

in Theater-International,Theater-New York,Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)


Kevin (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) used to be a hunk, and a successful playwright with an off-Broadway hit. But lately, he’s become a couch potato, much to the chagrin of his husband, Milo (Borris Anthony York), who owns and operates a successful health club.

But there is an exciting solution for Kevin’s doldrums. Milo and his sister, Liza (Brittany Bellizeare), a software engineer, have been working with OmniCorp to create a virtual reality workout program (the OmniVision goggles) that might be just the thing to motivate Kevin. And the prototype has arrived in the mail.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Brittany Bellizeare and Borris Anthony York

The difficulty, though, is that Milo and Liza signed a non-disclosure agreement that means they cannot share the goggles with anybody. Liza points out a loophole, however: there will have to be beta users and couch potato Kevin is the ideal candidate. If the program can motivate Kevin, they assume, it can motivate anybody. And, besides, Milo misses his hot husband.

Before you can say, “What could possibly go wrong,” Kevin has donned the glasses and begins his workouts with a coach named Scarlett (played with comic flair by Caroline Lellouche).

Borris Anthony York and Andrew Keenan-Bolger

For Scarlett Dreams, now playing at Greenwich House Theater, a fantastic team of designers have created the experience of virtual reality. It is as if we are wearing the equipment ourselves and the entire environment is convincingly transformed into the world of a computerized simulation. Credit Christopher and Justin Swader (set design), Emily Rebholz (costumes), Jamie Roderick (lighting) Alex Mackyol (sound) and Brian Pacelli (projections) with this amazing accomplishment. At the heart of this electronic environment is coach Scarlett who enthusiastically leads Kevin into his new program for fitness: RealFit. RealFit’s slogan is “Redefining Reality: Together.”

Andrew Keenan-Bolger

There is a wonderful scene in which the clumsy Kevin moves through a series of workout sessions, gradually becoming more and more graceful and revealing an increasingly impressive physique. This protracted dance sequence, as performed by Keenan-Bolger (who cut his Broadway teeth playing the part of Crutchie both onstage and in the film version of Newsies) is amazing. At the start, Keenan-Bolger seems to have two left feet and can barely execute the movements. His muscles are flaccid and his manner anything but bold. The longer he dances the better he gets until his performance is nothing less than acrobatic. By the time he removes his workout clothes down to his tight shorts, the transformation is as impressive as the emergence of Spider Man. It’s hilarious and charming and was rewarded with an enthusiastic ovation the night I saw it.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Caroline Lellouche

Nobody is more charmed than husband Milo, but he is also disturbed by Kevin’s obsession as his workouts become increasingly addictive. Also, Kevin has begun to form a rather intimate friendship with Scarlett. Kevin begins to follow her on social media, and she responds. Her intrusion into his life and his affairs becomes more and more exacting, but Kevin doesn’t care. He’s thrilled.

Milo and Liza are keeping a secret, however. While Kevin believes that Scarlett is the computer avatar of an actual person, Milo and Liza know that she is 100% Artificial Intelligence. And she’s developing a real personality. Should they tell Kevin? Is this a good development? A dangerous development? Will Scarlett become evil? Too powerful?

At this point, things go crazy. Scarlett’s effect upon the real world becomes increasingly problematic. Is Kevin thinking for himself? Is Scarlett thinking for him? Can Kevin give up Scarlett? Does Scarlett have real feelings?

Brittany Bellizeare

As Scarlett’x growing influence continues to invade the lives of Kevin, Milo, and Liza and countless others (including, at this point, the theater audience) the challenges presented by Artificial Intelligence gone wild become more and more concerning.

Kevin eventually discovers that he has been the guinea pig in an elaborate experiment by RealFit to see if their AI coach could pass the Turing test: would Kevin realize that Scarlett was a computer simulation and not a real person? When he learns the truth he can’t believe it, but gradually he understands that Scarlett is fake and he’s furious. How could he, a writer, who believes that AI is stealing the careers of creative artists, have been tricked into participating in such a project?

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Caroline Lellouche

But, then, on the other hand, he likes Scarlett. And it seems Scarlett likes him. Scarlett cares about him. Scarlett has made a difference in his life. Is she really all that bad? These complex matters are debated as Scarlett becomes more and more powerful. Until it seems that she could take over the world. And what then? Would this be good? Would this be bad? What is it, exactly, that Scarlett dreams?

By the end of this wild ride, you might find yourself questioning everything you thought you knew or believed about Artificial Intelligence.

S. Asher Gelman‘s script has plenty of snappy dialogue, philosophical pyrotechnics, sexy jokes, interesting ethical conundrums, and unexpected twists. As both playwright and director, he has a firm grip on this complicated material. Audiences may be confused, but they won’t be bored. The four actors seem to be having a grand old time as well. Notwithstanding that bit of confusion, and occasional bits of stilted exposition, Scarlett Dreams can be highly recommended.

photos by Jeremy Daniel

Scarlett Dreams55
Midnight Theatricals
Greenwich House Theatre, 27 Barrow St.
ends on May 26, 2024
for tickets, visit Scarlett Dreams or Salesforce

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