This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



(photo © Margee Challa, 2012)

Immersive production re-creates shady tale in 1930s New York City (photo © Margee Challa, 2012)

102 Norfolk St.
First monthly Saturday and Monday, September 7 - December 14, $55 general admission, $145 VIP

New York has gone crazy for immersive theatrical productions recently, as the audience interacts with the actors in various ways in such hit shows as Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 at the temporary Klub Kazino. Things go even further in Speakeasy Dollhouse, a flashy, lurid tale of murder and deception taking place in a series of rooms in an underground location on Norfolk St. Once you purchase your tickets — which just jumped from $30/$55 to $55/$145 — you start receiving e-mails from Cynthia von Buhler detailing the real-life murder of her grandfather Frank Spano and its cover-up, which reached all the way inside Tammany Hall. “My grandmother died in the 1980s and I never knew my grandfather,” one von Buhler missive explains. “He was mysteriously killed in 1935. He died on the very same day my mother was born. She told us that he was shot and nobody knew why. It was a secret. They boarded up the club and bakery after that.” Speakeasy Dollhouse re-creates that time period, acting out the events that led to the shooting, based on both facts and supposition, as von Buhler seeks to uncover the truth. Attendees are given a password and asked to dress in Prohibition-era costumes, which is a good idea, as the vast majority of people do so. Upon entering the nightclub, each person receives a piece of paper from the Fortune Teller (Jordana Rollerdazzler) giving them a specific role to carry out. For the next few hours, the cast, crew, and audience mingle as they travel from room to room and various plot elements are revealed, from an autopsy and a secret lovers tryst to back-room machinations and a card game.

Evidence is presented as SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE seeks to find answers to real-life murder (photo © Margee Challa, 2012)

Evidence is presented as SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE seeks to find answers to real-life murder (photo © Margee Challa, 2012)

The story revolves around the killing of club owner Frank Spano (Russell Farhang) by barber John Guerrieri (Silent James), which soon involves such figures as Detective Thomas Crane (Justin Moore), mobster Dutch Schultz (Travis Moore), Tammany Hall party boss Jimmy Hines (Charley Layton), and Magistrate Hulon Capshaw (Scott Southard). To further the atmosphere, there are a series of live performances by burlesque singers and dancers and the Howard Fishman Quartet. Meanwhile, a cash bar serves drinks and a bakery offers cannoli and other pastries. Originally planned as a one-time-only presentation, Speakeasy Dollhouse is now playing the first Saturday and Monday of each month through December, with each show centering on a different theme investigating the possible motive behind the killing; on October 26, there will be a special Halloween performance only for people who have previously attended a show, complete with zombies, werewolves, vampires, and unicorns. The production captures the feel of 1930s New York City, but the allowance of photography detracts a bit from the overall experience; the producers might want to have pictures spread all over social media, but there weren’t really many iPhones back in those days. Still, the more you immerse yourself in Speakeasy Dollhouse, the more fun you’re going to have. And there’s a whole lot of fun to be had as von Buhler, who appears as herself, keeps trying to get to the bottom of what happened to her family.

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