Lost in the Crowd – Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth

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by: JK Clarke

 

In a scene practically ripped from the pages of Time and Again, Jack Finney’s masterpiece of historical time-travel, a newsboy straight out of 1919 stood at the entrance of a stairway leading down to an alley near Gramercy Park. A somewhat anachronistically dressed couple approached, and as he tipped his cap and handed them a copy of the New York Herald, dated November 13, 1919, one of the two leaned forward and muttered a single phrase, prompting the unsurprised lad to step aside and invite the couple to descend the staircase and follow the alley to the back entry of The Players, the legendary Gramercy club.

get-attachment-2.aspxAnd thus begins the adventure that is Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth. It is a compelling piece of interactive historical drama that takes place the first Saturday night of every month at The Players for the next two months. Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth is essentially a historical docu-drama. Upon entering The Players, guests are in attendance at a party in 1919, on the eve of Prohibition, to celebrate the unveiling of a statue of the actor Edwin Booth, who also happens to be the brother of President Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. A band plays and announcements are made. Suddenly the proceedings are interrupted by shouts from a ruffian, or ruffians, in the crowd and the disturbance is quelled by police and various authority figures — rather heavy handedly, at that. Surely these scenes are scripted, but just as it would be a real gathering, it is impossible to tell exactly what is going on and who is or isn’t an actor. The chaos and excitement in the crowd is absolutely visceral. Thus are we transported back into the era.

get-attachment.aspxEventually the rest of the building is opened up to the party (and what a wonderful opportunity to explore the historic Players Club!). Some venture to the billiards room downstairs, others up to a parlor on the floor above where a puppet show takes place (something about loony birds perhaps, it is difficult to tell above the din and turmoil); and still others queue for access to Booth’s bedroom, or the casino, but only those with special VIP access (i.e. they paid more).

Speakeasy Dollhouse is the brainchild of Cynthia Von Buhler, whose grandfather, a speakeasy owner, was murdered on the streets of Manhattan in 1935. That event was the subject of the first Speakeasy Dollhouse immersive theater installment: Bloody Beginnings, which took place last year. This second installation, The Brothers Booth, directed by Wes Grantom, is the first such production at The Players. And there is terrific, in-period acting with wonderful characters wandering the floor (Lord Kat as an uncanny and charming Mark Twain, and Eric Gravez as Edwin Booth) in beautiful costumes (Tilly Grimes).

Unfortunately, despite all the well-done production elements, logistical shortcomings all but eliminate the pleasure one can derive from the evening. To begin with, it is far, far, far too crowded. Because the audience filters into the main ballroom through the back door, there are immediately very long lines to be reckoned with: for drink tickets (an unfortunate extra step for procuring a much needed cocktail); for the coat check; for the actual drinks once drink tickets are in hand. And the confluence of lines diminishes the enjoyment of the stage show. After the doors to the rest of the building are open, there are additional lines for visiting VIP rooms, or performance rooms. For a production with tickets ranging from $75 to $125 this is simply unacceptable. What’s more, it takes the fun out of the night. Cut attendance in half, and this is a winner.

 

Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth. Saturday April 5 at 8 PM and Saturday May 3 at 8 PM at The Players, 16 Gramercy Park South. Reservations only.www.speakeasydollhouse.com

 

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