"All The World's A Stage"
by Elisabeth Vincentelli
Cynthia von Buhler has the kind of family footnote any writer would kill for: In 1935, her grandfather, Frank Spano, was shot dead on a Manhattan street. Intrigued, von Buhler started researching the case, discovering that Grandpa had ran a couple of speakeasies in The Bronx.
First, the award-winning illustrator did a graphic novel about the story, reconstituting key scenes with dollhouse-like dioramas.
“Then I saw ‘Sleep No More,’ ” she says of the hit riff on “Macbeth,” set in a sprawling Chelsea warehouse, “and thought this could be a great immersive play.”
The result — “Speakeasy Dollhouse” — is performed twice a month at a Lower East Side club. Though the show is scripted and features two dozen actors, there’s also a participatory component as the audience helps investigate the mystery. “We have a complete environment with a private alley where we do the shooting, a bar, a living room where we lay the body,” von Buhler explains. “There’s even an abandoned bakery in the basement, and a secret bedroom that you access through a revolving bookshelf!”
The audience takes it to the next level: “You don’t have to dress up in period costumes, but most people do,” von Buhler says. “It’s a play, but it’s also a party.”