Transporting audiences to an era of mobsters, moonshine, and murder, one of the city's most unique theater experiences will return by popular demand for an extended run through June 2013.
Originally intended to be a one-night-only event, Speakeasy Dollhouse will kick off its new season in February 2013, once again bringing an actual unsolved Prohibition-era murder to life in the downtown building that once served as mobster Meyer Lansky's hangout. Replete with live jazz by Howard Fishman and his band, burlesque dancers, and real moonshine, the production offers up a meticulously detailed slice of New York City history on the first Monday and Saturday of each month.
The experience begins with a series of emails featuring actual 1935 news articles, court documents, and autopsy reports. Audience members also receive special instructions to show up dressed for a 1930's night on the town at a secret address, including the password they will need to enter. Upon arrival, are each audience member is assigned a role or task which can range from passing notes to key characters to aiding in an autopsy. Once inside, they discover a perfect replica of a speakeasy, where they eat cannoli, play cards with gangsters, sip hooch disguised in coffee cups, enjoy burlesque performances - and witness a shooting, funeral, murder investigation, and trial.
The show is the brainchild of artist and author Cynthia von Buhler, whose Italian immigrant grandfather, a speakeasy owner named Frank Spano, was shot and killed on a Manhattan street in 1935. Though the shooter was caught, his case was inexplicably dismissed, leaving the question of motive forever unanswered.
Long haunted by the mystery, von Buhler, whose mother was born the day her grandfather died, began interviewing family members about the killing and scouring autopsy reports, police records, and court documents. Inspired by a 1940s investigative technique called "nutshell studies," von Buhler first recreated the crime scene in an elaborate dollhouse diorama that garnered a recent profile in the New York Times.
von Buhler brought her miniature set to life in what was intended to be a one-night theatrical staging via a Kickstarter campaign. The production proved so popular that it continued to be performed before sold-out audiences, becoming one of the hottest underground theater tickets in the city and attracting a roster of guest performers that included bestselling author Neil Gaiman, musician Amanda Palmer, downtown theater icon Edgar Oliver, and others.
Each month's show explores a different motive behind the murder, from jealousy over a suspected affair to a Mafia hit. As audience members meander through a speakeasy bar, a private alleyway, a bakery, and more, they are privy to conversations and whispered bits of gossip from cast members about the victim's marital infidelities, mob connections, and other clues. The piece is constantly evolving based on new scenarios sparked by spontaneous interactions between cast members and guests, who are encouraged to become full-fledged participants in the unfolding drama. Von Buhler is using discoveries and research culled from the performances for a book she is writing on the murder.
"Speakeasy Dollhouse is more than just a play - it is a time capsule that transports audiences to the scene of a riveting crime and then invites them to live fully in that world, erasing the boundary between themselves and the performers," said von Buhler.
Speakeasy Dollhouse is presented on the first Monday and Saturday of each month in Manhattan. Tickets are available in advance only and can be purchased by phone at 1-800-838-3006 or online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/214593.