Cynthia von Buhler at the Players Club. Photo Credit: Maxine Nienow
What if John Wilkes Booth really assassinated Lincoln because of a sibling rivalry? The Brothers Booth, a new interactive play by Cynthia Von Buhler, creator of the Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning, will explore that possibility. Spectators will be encouraged to play along, observing the action and piecing together the clues as they explore The Players Club, founded by Edwin Booth in 1888. The Brothers Booth is a fantasy based on a number of truths about Edwin and his infamous brother, John Wilkes Booth. We met up with von Buhler at the Players Club to find out more about the play, which opens in March.
In von Buhler’s version of the story, it is 1919, and Edwin Booth’s statue in Gramercy Park is being unveiled just as Prohibition comes into effect. The opulent Players Club will be transformed into a speakeasy for the evening, and guests will be shepherded in through a back entrance. As the drama between the Booth brothers unfolded long before 1919, they will make their appearance as ghosts. Downstairs, in the main space, bathtub gin will be poured and a burlesque show will commence. A fortune teller will conduct seances in a side room.
Guests might be led into Edwin Booth’s bedroom in the Players Club, which still smells of his tobacco
Von Buhler researched the Booth Brothers for months in order to write the play. She aims to delve into the details of the story that they don’t teach you in history class, like the conspiracy theories surrounding the mummified corpse of John Wilkes, and Edwin’s fascination with the occult. “It’s kind of like the first play, where it’s all based on truth, but you’re kind of shocked that it’s based on truth, because it’s just so crazy,” von Buhler remarked.
Left: John, Edwin and Junius Booth, Jr. in Shakespeare’s Julis Caesar in 1864; Right: Edwin Booth as Hamlet, c. 1870
“I’m the investigator, and I started investigating the murder of my grandfather,” von Buhler says, “And I realized I’m very good at this, and so I’m investigating other mysteries.” She hopes her guests will play along and take on an investigative role too. As in the first play, spectators will get the most out of the experience if they arrive with a sense of curiosity and seize the opportunity to explore. Actors will be moving through all the rooms in the four-story Greek Revival townhouse on Gramercy Park. This is a rare experience to explore one of New York City’s historic gems, usually closed to the public.
There are three performances planned: March 1, April 5, and May 3. Get your advance tickets here.