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Interactive Show Takes Audience Back in Time at Players Club Mansion

By Heather Holland | February 21, 2014 7:16am
 "Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth" is opening at the Players Club on Mar.1.
'Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth'
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GRAMERCY — An immersive theater performance opening at The Players club next month is letting audience members roam the 125-year-old mansion as a play unfolds around them.

The show, called “Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth,” encourages guests to explore the historic 16 Gramercy Park South home that once belonged to actor Edwin Booth, as burlesque dancers, musicians and actors perform around them.

“I wanted to create an environment and throw people into it and see how they react,” said Cynthia von Buhler, creator of the show that opens March 1. “You’ll get a different experience depending on which actor you follow. Every character gives a different perspective, kind of like real life.”

The story begins as soon as guests arrive through a “secret” entrance in the back of The Players club, which will only be revealed to those who purchase a ticket, said von Buhler, an author and artist who lives on the Upper East Side.

Once they’re in, guests will be asked to sample a 70-year-old “hallucinogenic” anisette liquor in order to travel back in time to 1919, when the play is set.

“I found some barrels of it in the basement of my grandparent’s former speakeasy [in The Bronx],” said von Buhler. “It doesn’t really make people hallucinate, but I just like to say that.”

"Speakeasy Dollhouse" tells a story of a sibling rivalry between Booth, who lived in the club's mansion in the late 1800s, and his brother John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Following the first scene of the show, which will take place in the club's ballroom along with the burlesque show, guests will be free to roam into the rooms set up for the play, including the library and the billiard room, as well as spaces set up as a seance room or the burlesque dancers' dressing room.

They can also choose to stick with one character the whole time, von Buhler said.

The burlesque and taxi dancers — who served as paid dance partners in the early 20th century — will be performing in the ballroom throughout the entire two-and-half-hour play.

The show will take place in many of the rooms on the first and second floors, including the ballroom, billiard room and library, but a few lucky guests will be invited by the actors to see some of the other rooms on the third floor, von Buhler said.

The production required very little set design, she added.

“[The space] is gorgeous,” she said. “You couldn’t recreate something like that — it would be too expensive. But we are going to be using a lot of props and we’ll be moving things around and bringing things in.”

After she was invited to create an immersive play for The Players, von Buhler began researching the history of the club and created a story around what she learned.

“I started researching The Players club and what I found was fascinating,” she said. “I hope people will look at their own lives and understand their siblings better. It’s about destiny and your parents setting you up for your future.”

“The Brothers Booth” is the second installment of von Buhler’s original “Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning,” which was first presented in the Lower East Side’s The Back Room Bar in 2011.

"Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth" will show at The Players club, located at 16 Gramercy Park South, on March 1, April 5 and May 3, starting at 8 p.m. Advanced ticket purchase only. Price for general admission is $75 and $125 for VIP, which includes access to the third floor, VIP-only scenes, and lounge and cocktail service. To purchase tickets, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/506776.