Whence Came Ye Scarlett O'Hara O'Hanrahan?
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 29, 2008
Whence Came Ye Scarlett O'Hara O'Hanrahan? is a delightful showcase for the many, many talents of Melle Powers, the young woman who is its writer and sole performer. Powers has stage presence to spare; add that to her impressive abilities to act, clown, sing, dance, and write and it's clear that we're dealing here with a formidable Renaissance Woman of the theatre, a force we will surely be reckoning with in years to come.
Scarlett O'Hara O'Hanrahan, protagonist of this one-woman/multi-character play, is the only daughter of a loving Irish couple. Her mom loves Gone with the Wind, hence her surprising moniker; Scarlett is black, by the way, adopted while just a few days old. So the name has a certain, um, irony.
Happy as she is, Scarlett, just 18, feels that something is missing from her life, and so she decides to run away from home and seek out her birth mother, about whom the only thing she knows is that she was from someplace called The Bronx. With only her doll for company, she stows away on a ship and arrives in Manhattan determined to find her "real" mom. She figures it won't be that difficult; she's seen Friends on TV, and as far as she can tell there are only about three brown people in all of New York.
And so her journey begins. If her New York City has an Oz-like quality, that's to be expected; Powers has created this coming-of-age tale with that very model in mind (so not one but two iconic 1939 films inform this piece, playfully and invaluably). Her adventures involve encounters with a street vendor who thinks he might be God's gift to womankind, a clueless MTV-style news reporter, a famous (but not very bright) singer named Lockhart Still (a character Powers has played in other shows), a teenage girl who is alarmingly plugged into the world of Internet social networking sites, and, briefly, a clerk at the Bronx Office of Records who proves to be as much of a humbug as the Wizard of Oz. Powers plays all the characters, showing off her tremendous versatility; each is defined very specifically physically and vocally by the actress, though the only change to her appearance is acquisition of a different hat or wig.
The MySpace Girl, in particular, is an inspired and very contemporary creation; some of the funniest and timeliest dialogue is assigned to her. But all of the characterizations are strong and compelling, and together they make Scarlett's adventure well worth experiencing.
Jeremy Brisiel directs the piece with a sure hand, keeping it moving briskly through the transitions between scenes and characters. The smart, minimalist set consists of a few chairs placed in a square on the stage, backed by some projections that help define location. A video sequence featuring Powers as Lockhart Still is impressive.
Whence Came Ye Scarlett O'Hara O'Hanrahan? is funny and touching. It has some cogent things to say about race and identity and who a person really is. And it introduces us to a powerhouse named Melle Powers who, no matter whence she came, seems destined to go places.