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You are here: Home Theatre Reviews & Features 2013-14 Reviews Off-Broadway Off-Broadway Review: SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE: THE BROTHERS BOOTH is Magical and Spontaneous
Friday, 07 March 2014 21:35

Off-Broadway Review: SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE: THE BROTHERS BOOTH is Magical and Spontaneous

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Taxi Dancers Hanna Rose and Ashley Grombol (r) Taxi Dancers Hanna Rose and Ashley Grombol (r) Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The immersive experience in theatre is unavoidable today and it’s easy to see its appeal. Immersion lends itself to the immediate and ethereal nature of live theatre which, thus far, is irreproducible in any other media. Though, with such innovations so quickly turning to gimmick, the challenge which Cynthia von Buhler faced with her Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth, presented by Stageworks Media at The Players, was how to add more than “just water” to the site specific trend.

After delivering the password to a pageboy for entry, guests are ushered through the back entrance of The Players Club. Once crowded into the club’s theatre space, multicolor tickets, each for a particular genre of beverage, are purchased carnival style at a corner table. These tickets are then exchanged at bars at the back of the theatre space or the basement. Guests, through no small aid of the beverages, are invited to dissolve into the word of the performance as performers themselves. Many eager attendees wore flapper gowns and suits which rivaled those on stage and left the line dividing performer and audience irreparably blurred. Thanks to this costuming and the swell of both liquor and music, cross conversation between characters and bystanders spread spontaneously.

It is this conversation which makes Speakeasy Dollhouse unique to other famed immersive theatre experiences. Unlike the by now mythicized Sleep No More, Speakeasy Dollhouse is an organically social affair. Throughout the time spent, names are shared, conversations cracked open, and even a business card or two exchanged. For an immersive experience to bring ease enough for eye contact is daunting, for it to spur on organic conversation is nothing short of a miracle.

The performance features a melodramatic and site specific tale of the Booth Brothers. Hostess Tansy welcomed the audience to a prohibition era dedication at the Players for a statue of Edwin Booth performing his most famed role, Hamlet. During a toast by Edwin Booth’s daughter, a tattooed man enters spewing shocking accusations which include conspiracies, mummies, curses, and, to the distress of all, Edwin Booth’s infamous brother, John Wilkes Booth. The altercations between Edwin Booth’s daughter and the tattooed gentleman and the entrance of the spirits of the Booth brothers, performed by Eric Gravez as Edwin and Ryan Wesen as John Wilkes Booth, served as dramatic bookends to the evening and found their effectiveness in no small part to the transportive nature of the space.

There are also more lightly surreal curiosities to be found throughout the building. A tour guide leads visitors to the actual room of Edwin Booth, a gentleman offers a delightfully off putting presentation on “The Boobies of the Galapagos” in the library, and some of New York’s most charming performers hop on stage to perform with a live brass band or coerce audience members to dance with them.

My guest and I, as a well as a few strangers who by then could have very well been close friends, were well taken care of by a performer who went by “Miss St. James.” To converse with her as she joyfully constructed her own energetic history was an honest pleasure. In one particular instance she stumbled into anachronism by claiming she’ll star in Kiss Me Kate then, upon catching herself, proclaims that she will write a musical called Kiss Me Kate... and it’ll be a hit! Our small party, including the actor herself, were quickly lost in this gleefully cathartic moment. It might seem to be small and simple, but it was magical and one of several instances of spontaneous play which came to pass in the hallowed halls of The Players.

Director Wes Grantom continues his penchant for sophisticated risqué fun by creating a unique world of the mythic prohibition era. He exhausted the space for every ounce of atmosphere it’s worth and in The Players, where the texture of history is made tactile, that’s truly a feat of artistic engineering. Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth gives in to the purpose of its site. By turning a night’s performance into a party it honors The Players as a space where those who care for the arts can meet, mingle, and discover while surrounded by the passions of those present and past.

The interactive cast of Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth consists of: Jonas Barranca, Victor Barranca,Chrissy Basham, Daniel Burns,Laura Epperson, Russell Farhang,Chris Fink, Katelan Foisy, E. James Ford,Skyler Max Gallun, Ashley Grombol, Jenny Harder, Silent James,Lord Kat, Alexandra Kopko, Delysia LaChatte, Justin Moore,Travis Moore, Dan Olson,Erin Orr, William Otterson, Natalie Rich,Hannah Rose, Samantha Rosenrater, Sarah Vogt, and Allen Wilcox.

Speakeasy Dollhouse
Presented Monthly (on the First Saturday of the Month)
At The Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park South
Opens Saturday, March 1st at 8:00 pm

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Last modified on Saturday, 08 March 2014 00:02