Newsboy played by Daniel Burns. Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel
Artist Cynthia Von Buhler’s latest endeavor might be the closest you can get to time travel. Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth, an interactive play exploring the Booth brothers’ sibling rivalry, will whisk you back to 1919—when Prohibition drove the parties underground but certainly didn’t stop them.
Von Buhler has explored this theme in the first iteration of the Speakeasy Dollhouse: the Bloody Beginning, which was inspired by the true story of her grandfather’s murder. This time, she has taken a quintessentially New York story and brought it to life in one of the City’s most coveted private Gilded Age clubs, the Players Club on Gramercy Park.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel
A few days before the show, ticket holders are given instructions to meet the newsboy at the gate and whisper a password. Von Buhler encourages guests to dress up, and if you go, you’ll be sure to see lots of bow ties and suspenders, as well as plenty of pearls and flapper dresses on the ladies. Play along, and you’re sure to have fun.
Von Buhler has made sure there’s plenty going on. Taxi dancers perform in the main room while poets recite Shakespeare in the tap room, and a puppet show gets underway in the library. You can have your palm read by a fortune teller, and if you’re lucky, you can play poker with Mark Twain (at the same card table where the real Mark Twain played, of course).
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel
The story of the Booth brothers is one not often told, though both brothers played an important part in American history. In Von Buhler’s version, the ghost of John Wilkes Booth cries out to his brother Edwin about how famous he will be. Edwin’s ghost responds that he wants to be remembered for good, not evil. Yet this is the sad truth of history—if John Wilkes’ true motive for killing Abraham Lincoln was to be more famous than his brother, he succeeded. Every child in America learns the name John Wilkes Booth in history class. Edwin’s side of the story is rarely mentioned.
At center, Edwin Booth played by Eric Gravez. On the left, John Wilkes Booth played by Ryan Wessen. Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel.
The difficulty presented by the play is a question of scale. With over 300 people flooding into the Players Club, the actors have little control over what everybody sees, and if they are following the story. The Bloody Beginning, by contrast, was more intimate. Still, the Brothers Booth offers spectators the chance to engage with history—not only in the form of a story, but also by immersing themselves in such a beautiful historic place.
Cynthia Von Buhler poses under Edwin Booth’s portrait at the Players Club. Photo Credit: Maxine Nienow.
There are two more performances planned: April 5 and May 3. Get your advance tickets here.