Photographed by Maxine Nienow.
Anyone entering The Players Club, even the Gramercy Park neighborhood itself, is already stepping into a space that undeniably echoes of American history. Renowned as the country's greatest actor, Edwin Booth was also the elder brother of perhaps its most reviled traitor — John Wilkes Booth. Edwin's home, where he founded the organization for his fellow performers, remains largely unchanged today. And, so it is an altogether transporting experience to step into The Players Club, already radiating with story, when it is filled with costumed creatures creating theater in every dark corner.
Produced by Speakeasy Dollhouse, The Brothers Booth is the latest incarnation of New York's immersive theater scene. Cynthia von Buhler, the writer and director, greets guests at the door with a cup of anisette. ("From my grandmothers attic — careful! It's quite strong.") From there, visitors may be assigned a task ("You are Joe The Barber in need of new clients. Seek out someone in need of your services."), or simply wander the multilevel club, interacting with various characters, all of whom drop hints as to the overarching question of the evening: What's the real story behind John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln?
If you're not careful, you may miss it. It's quite easy to get lost in smaller vignettes around the venue. (If you're very lucky, you could get pulled into Edwin Booth's room for even further mystery.) And, with bars stationed throughout, some attendees might get a little too much in the party spirit, shall we say, to stay engaged with von Buhler's juicy tale of family jealousies and political intrigue.
The Brothers Booth is a different animal than Sleep No More, the big-budget, no-talking immersive show that one can't help but compare all other such productions too. This event at The Players Club is bawdy and brash: part play with a lot of party. But, most of all, it offers the chance to experience history inside a true landmark — the club itself — one that non-members rarely get a chance to see. Add a glass of anisette, and it's the closest thing to time travel you'll find on a Saturday night.