Speakeasy Dollhouse: NYC interactive theater

Actor in coffinLast night I cabbed it down to the Lower East Side for some Prohibition era interactive theater at The Back Room of the Lower East Side Toy Factory. This is basically a speakeasy bar hidden down a dodgy alleyway where they serve alcohol in teacups and bottled beer in brown paper bags.

Anyway, having been involved in the interactive theater scene in London, I was keen to give it a go in New York. First stop was the highly hyped yet slightly underwhelming Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel. Next stop(last night) was the less pretentious and more authentic Speakeasy Dollhouse set in the aforementioned bar.The action began by meeting a host of Italian-American actor-mobsters mingling among a crowd of costumed partygoers. The evening was interspersed with random scenes illustrating a whodunnit story, including no less than a birth, a death and a striptease. There was fantastic jazz music from a live band, as well as great comedy moments from the actors.

If I had one criticism, it was that the evening could benefit from a little more structure. Sometimes it felt like you were wandering round in a novelty bar full of too cool-for-school Lower East Siders, waiting for the action to happen.

On the other hand, the brains behind the operation (aka “Cynthia Von Buhler”) had gone to an extraordinary amount of effort in her research for the project. All of the events in the play were ‘real’ in the sense that her ancestors truly were embroiled in this real-life murder mystery. As such, the immersive scenes were fantastic attempts at re-enactment, not make-believe.

I’d sum the experience up by saying it was all very ‘Lower East Side’. As my friend remarked, although there was an audible gasp when a naked woman’s body was fully uncovered during an autopsy scene, everyone pretended they were far too cool to be genuinely shocked. All very ‘right-on’ – and in that sense, very New York.

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