Scarlet Sees the Light
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
August 15, 2004
Scarlet Kane could so easily be the girl you love to hate—twenty-something fashion plate with an Ivy League education and a Bumble & Bumble haircut; writes for a fashion magazine and loves her access to Miu Miu shoes but really wants to write for The New Yorker; couldn’t afford her apartment without a little help from Daddy. But fortunately for Scarlet Sees the Light, a single-character play about Scarlet’s experiences on August 14, 2003—the night of the famous East-Coast-wide blackout—there’s more to her than meets the eye.
The first ten minutes or so of the piece adroitly set up Scarlet’s shallower side—her tendency to take advantage of her workmates, her obsession with Friendster, her “handbag cocktails” of prescription anti-anxiety pills. But as the play goes on, writer Nathan Parker and director Ted Sod slowly and adroitly let us beneath the surface, showing us also her intelligence, her naivete, her passion for life, and most importantly her self-awareness. Scarlet is at times selfish, even self-absorbed, but Parker’s keenly written observations make us see the world the way she does, and also see through her faaade. Occasionally, Parker’s enthusiasm for metaphor (and he truly does have a gift for the splendid metaphor) gets a little out of control, and thus a few moments feel like they’re better suited to the page than the stage.
Actress Carlina Salemi creates Scarlet with a slow build. Just when I started to find her a little too cool, a little too mannered, she began to let flashes of genuine emotion show. And even though Scarlet is telling the story of a night in the past, Salemi keeps her reactions honest and fresh, so her performance is developing new shades right up to the end. She’s especially good at letting us see the innocence beneath Scarlet’s polish.
John McDermott’s simple set maximizes the usefulness of the tiny playing space; both the set and David Zinn’s costumes visually enhance our understanding of Scarlet’s world.
I thoroughly enjoyed, and was at times even truly moved by, Scarlet’s journey through a dark New York, especially her encounter with grieving a Englishman named Humphrey. Scarlet ultimately arrives at an epiphany (which I won’t give away) that I found unconvincing—but I’m still not certain whether I was meant to be convinced by it. And in fact, I think the play is stronger, and more emotionally resonant, if I wasn’t—so I’m sticking with that.