The Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island was not the only place in New York City where one could time travel to the Golden Age of the 1920s last weekend. Saturday night, Ben and I went to Speakeasy Dollhouse‘s Zeigfeld’s Midnight Frolic, another immersive theater show about the mysterious death of Olive Thomas, one of Zeigfeld’s dancers.
I first heard of Speakeasy Dollhouse, a theater company, from one of Ben’s friends a couple of years ago. He had found a tiny little door (the size of a dollhouse door) with a QR code on a side of a building one a street. He used his IPhone to read the QR code and it opened up a website with information for a secret play. He and his girlfriend went and loved the show. I loved the mystery and serendipity of it all, but I never encounter these random cool things like this. I always have to chase them down. I found Speakeasy Dollhouse’s website and Facebook page and followed them for months. This was the first time that we could attend one of their shows, so I quickly nabbed two tickets for us.
What was really so cool about this show was like the name of the theater company, the theater itself was a speakeasy. It was a hidden theater behind a diner in midtown. You walk inside the diner, go all the way back, and behind a curtain, there’s a magnificent theater. The theater had been in disuse until the director of the show was looking for a place to host the show. Serendipitously she found this hidden theater that was just perfect for the show.
The front half of the space was a lovely stage. There was an area where people could sit at tables and order dinner. There was another area with row seating and small cocktail tables for drinks. This area was “New York City.” The back half was a huge lounge area, where you could order bespoke cocktails, such as Sweet Syphilis and Yellow Fever (delicious). This area was “Paris.”
Then there was another area that was transformed into the lobby and a hotel room of the Ritz Carlton in Paris. The hotel room’s wall were made of clear acrylic glass, so when the actors were inside, we the audience could stand outside and see everything.
When we arrived, we each got a passport and a small card telling us what our “job” was. I was Al Shean’s personal assistant and it was my job to keep Mr. Shean’s partner, Mr. Gallagher, from drinking too much. We wandered around and explored the different spaces until the show began.
The stage show is a cabaret with dancing girls and singing. Ben particularly liked the MC, who was very funny and entertaining. There were also aerial acts, which was really cool, as the the aerialists performed from a special chandelier apparatus, plus a cool shadow puppet show above the stage. While the show was going on, other characters (Mr. Zeigfeld, his wife, Olive Thomas, and Jack Pickford, and other minor characters) performed little scenes. Mr. Zeigfeld was quite the lady’s man, much to his wife’s chagrin.
Synopsis of the storyline: Olive Thomas was one of Mr. Zeigfeld’s show girls. She married Jack Pickford and they went to Paris for their honeymoon. She drank Jack’s syphilis medication and died. Although her death was ruled an accident, it’s unclear whether it was truly an accident or murder.
The show was staged so that there was a cabaret show, then the audience goes to the hotel room and sees a version of what happened the night Olive drank Jack’s medication that poisoned her (an accident, a suicide, murder). After you see one version, you go back to “New York” and see another cabaret set. Then that set was over, you go back to “Paris” to see the other version of what could have happened.
Toward the end of the night, I finally ran into Mr. Gallagher who was “drinking gin and tonic.” I introduced myself as Mr. Shean’s personal assistant. After exchanging pleasantries, I insisted on refreshing his drink and took it away from him. It was fun.
I’m really loving the immersive theater shows that have been going on in New York City for the last five years. When it’s done really well, there’s a sense of intimacy and relationship that built between you and the actors. I feel that I’m transported to another time and place. Thank you, Speakeasy Dollhouse, for taking us to the Roaring 20s. I can’t wait to see where else we’ll travel with you.