'Scarlett Dreams' review — A.I. reigns supreme in thought-provoking new play

Read our review of Scarlett Dreams off Broadway, a world-premiere play written and directed by S. Asher Gelman playing at the Greenwich House Theater.

Austin Fimmano
Austin Fimmano

Artificial intelligence is increasingly harder to ignore, especially in spaces where it poses a threat to artists. Scarlett Dreams, written and directed by S. Asher Gelman, tackles this contentious subject head-on in the story of a A.I. software developer, her fitness expert brother, and his playwright husband who work together to launch a virtual reality workout app. With four winningly charismatic leads and a deeply chilling script, Scarlett Dreams takes us on a roller coaster ride of ethical dilemmas in the brave new world of artificial intelligence. The play asks: Who gets to define reality?

All the characters have a more-than-personal stake in this question. Allegiances shift rapidly throughout the play, and each character - including the title Scarlett, a fitness instructor on the app - makes their case for the others and the audience. They’re all so dynamic and strong in their convictions that it’s hard to root against any of them, even as you may grow uncomfortable with where their actions might lead.

Even for those wary of speculating on the future of A.I., Scarlett Dreams is a fascinating thought experiment. The writing is sharp, flowing seamlessly from funny to creepy, and the cast embody their characters with a true-to-life vulnerability. Perhaps most impressive is Jamie Roderick's lighting design and Brian Pacelli's projection design, which take over the set and fully immerses the audience in various virtual realities.

Scarlett Dreams is ultimately a demonstration of how the road might be paved between our familiar world and one we’re terrified of. It’s not hard to imagine that Scarlett Dreams could be a peek into what lies in store for our future.

Scarlett Dreams summary

Scarlett Dreams is Gelman’s third world-premiere play. Siblings Milo (Borris Anthony York) and Liza (Brittany Bellizeare) have been developing RealFit, a fitness app that runs on artificial intelligence. Against Milo’s better judgment, they convince Milo’s playwright husband, Kevin, to be their beta tester.

Unbeknownst to Kevin, Scarlett (Caroline Lellouche), the fitness instructor he’s quickly become obsessed with is not a real person, but A.I. programming that Liza developed from scratch. As the app begins to change the world as they know it, Milo, Kevin, and Liza must reconcile with the A.I.’s impact on their lives and their relationships with each other.

What to expect at Scarlett Dreams

The modest has a much more bohemian, laid-back, local feeling than anything based in Times Square, but it still offers a wow factor. The lighting and special effects of Scarlett Dreams are utterly transportive, with multiple effects drawing applause from the audience. At my performance, Andrew Keenan-Bolger’s physical commitment to the part of Kevin earned well-deserved applause and even some cheering after a lengthy workout dance sequence. The V.R. headset props are seriously impressive as well.

Scarlett Dreams features occasional strobe lights, immersive lighting and projections to represent virtual reality spaces, and loud noises. In the relatively intimate theatre space, these effects pack a big punch. The show runs approximately 100 minutes with no intermission.

What audiences are saying about Scarlett Dreams

Audiences have taken to social media to rave about the topical subject matter and captivating design of Scarlett Dreams.

  • “It was filled with so many twists and was incredibly timely!” - Instagram user @hey.arthur.nyc
  • “The tech in this show is literally so bananas insane” - Instagram user @phoenixslemontown
  • “The most impressive aspects of it were the scenic design, it was so incredibly done” - TikTok user @chloehecterr

Who should see Scarlett Dreams

  • Tech buffs or even casual A.I. observers will be impressed by the high-tech props and intrigued by the idea of a future that quickly becomes dependent on A.I.
  • Fans of Black Mirror, Mrs. Davis, or similar TV shows set in dystopian, A.I.-ruled worlds will love the sci-fi narrative plot twists and the rapid shift from a recognizable world to a wholly unpredictable one.
  • Fans of Gelman’s previous Off-Broadway successes Afterglow and safeword will be drawn in by the realistic, intimate portrayals of different relationships (husband to husband, brother to sister, human to robot) even in the face of the play’s more daunting themes.

Learn more about Scarlett Dreams off Broadway

Scarlett Dreams is bound to be a conversation starter. Between the talented design team, a delightful cast, and an eerily relevant story that will keep you on your toes, Scarlett Dreams is a thought-provoking simulation that asks us to reexamine our definition of reality.

Learn more and get Scarlett Dreams tickets on New York Theatre Guide. Scarlett Dreams is at the Greenwich House Theater through May 26.

Photo credit: Caroline Lellouche and Andrew Keenan-Bolger in Scarlett Dreams. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Originally published on

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