It’s true, you know.
There is a time warp hidden in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
In an alley, all it takes is one knock.
One knock on a heavy door, and a password.
And, no, I’m not going to tell you the password. If you were supposed to know it, you’d know it.
Once the password is spoken, the door opens up and you step into prohibition era New York. 1920’s jazz, velvet furniture, low lights, gin served in coffee mugs.
Welcome to the world of Speakeasy Dollhouse- created by the fantastic Cynthia von Buhler.
It’s a book. It’s a play. It’s one hell of an experience.
With funding from kickstarter Cynthia von Buhler was able to create such an immersive project. One that bled with family, memory, history, and a deep, deep love.
It’s the story of Mary and Frank Spano- her grandparents. After coming to New York from Italy they ran two speakeasies. The center piece to Speakeasy Dollhouse is Spano’s Bakery, the front for one of their hidden bars.
The graphic novel is beautifuly made. Beautifully written. Beautifully illustrated with photos of handmade dolls and sets (some of which you have to look at twice to make sure they’re not real people).
It’s the story of Cynthia von Buhler, really. Her life growing up, the decisions she’s made, and the roads she navigated to get to where (and who) she is. All with the backdrop of the murder of Frank Spano and the birth of her mother.
I’m not going to lay out the whole story for you. I could sum it all up, but it’s really something you have to enjoy for yourself. The way she tells her families history, mingling with her own life and her quest for answers immediately draws you in. It’s personal, it’s dark- it’s almost impossible to not connect with her in some way.
And the kicker to the whole thing? On Monday (that’s October 17th) was the first night of her play- an acted out version of the murder of Frank and the birth of her mother.
You knock, you speak the password, and you are welcomed into von Buhler’s history. The speakeasy perfectly mimic’s the dollhouse. Spano’s Bakery, a small apartment, a hospital.
We stood there, swooned by music and secret alcoholic drinks, chatting with ghosts from the past. Every now and then “pass-woud” would ring out to draw us further into the bygone era.
And suddenly, screaming. Spano family trouble. Possible infidelity on the part of Frank?
And we all go about our business, like everyone always does after such altercations.
And then it happens again, we all rush to the street. Gun shots! Screaming! The actors implore us for help.
Then it sinks in. We are not watching the play. We -are- the play.
No. Scratch that.
We are in the midst of Cynthia von Buhler history.
The play acted out around us, pulling us in, questioning us. “Did you see him?” “Have you seen the baby?”
There is no escape from the past. It pulls us and pushes us in the directions we need to go. It’s true with all of us. It’s true with Speakeasy Dollhouse.
Separately it’s all amazing. The book, the play, the upcoming animation. Together it’s an opus of family history, a New York love letter, an opening of the soul.
And guess what…
…it’s only part 1.
And a side note…thank you, Cynthia von Buhler for a wonderful night and a wonderful experience. I am proud to be a “sailor.”