Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth Explores Ghosts of the Past in Historic Players Club

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28 Feb 2014

Cynthia von Buhler
Cynthia von Buhler
Photo by Maxine Nienow

Speakeasy Dollhouse creator Cynthia von Buhler talks with Playbill.com about her new production, The Brothers Booth, opening March 1 at the Players Club.


"I'm a ghosthunter," Cynthia von Buhler said while ducking around a corner to peer inside a dark room.

Walking through the Players Club with Buhler, who created the immersive theatre production Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning, a real-life murder mystery that plays in the Back Room on the Lower East Side, one observes how true the statement is. Buhler's next theatre project, The Brothers Booth, also focuses on mysteries of the past — and her determination to explore, and possibly solve them, in the present day.

Speakeasy Dollhouse was inspired by the murder of von Buhler's grandfather, Frank Spano, and Buhler's research of the crime resulted in a real-life dollhouse, a graphic novel and the popular downtown theatre event, where guests dress in period attire, sip cocktails out of teacups and interact with performers portraying the actual people Spano knew just before his death.

While the creation of The Bloody Beginning was inspired by von Buhler's own family, the idea for The Brothers Booth, which begins performances March 1, came from the location: The Players Club. Founded in 1888 by Edwin Booth and 15 other incorporators, including Mark Twain and General William Tecumseh Sherman, the organization was located in the Greek Revival townhouse, which faces Gramercy Park, for the purpose of "the promotion of social intercourse between members of the dramatic profession and the kindred professions of literature, painting, architecture, sculpture and music, law and medicine, and the patrons of the arts."

Present-day members of arts, business and commerce gather in the historical building to work and socialize, and after attending a performance of The Bloody Beginning, Michael Barra,  president of Stageworks Media, invited von Buhler to the Players Club with the suggestion that she put on a show there. But rather than relocate The Bloody Beginning, von Buhler decided to create something new.

While delving into the history of the Players Club, von Buhler began researching the life and death of John Wilkes Booth, brother to the Club's founder, Edwin Booth, and the actor who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. She began questioning much of what she read, including the question of whether or not Booth actually died 12 days after he shot Lincoln, which has been reported. 

"The story is crazy," von Buhler said. "Supposedly when John Wilkes Booth killed himself, he wasn't killed. It was somebody else with red hair. Many other people, who are still surviving members of the Booth family, believe that John Wilkes Booth did not die then. There's a lot of evidence out there."


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