The Speakeasy. Interactive 1920’s Speakeasy. Location: Secret. Created by Nick A. Olivero. Written by Bennett Fisher and Nick A. Olivero. Directed by Michael French, Leah Gardner, Erin Gilley and Nick A. Olivero.
It’s easy to see why The Speakeasy is the hottest ticket in town – the interactive, total immersion into the secret world of a 1920’s underground club is the most innovative, superbly crafted theatre piece of the year. The producer’s bold vision of creating a “choose-your-own-adventure” is carefully realized with the help of artists, scenic designers, technical staff and a cast of over 35 actors. This massive achievement is a must-see event.
Every portion of the atmosphere inside is carefully controlled: the bustling Bar with its loudmouth drunks, brazen soldiers and the gangster-ish bar staff; the Casino with its knowledgeable croupiers and waitresses to the stunning Cabaret room with its star-studded clientele and sensational 1920’s vaudeville floor show. Yet the customers experience is wonderfully open to creation as you wander around the labyrinth set exploring the various scenarios and scripted dramas.
The acting is superb, the set historically accurate, the cabaret performers extraordinary. The evening, which starts with you receiving a secret password and directions to the “club”, flies by way too fast. Given the action is occurring in virtually every nook and cranny of the location, one only gets a glimpse into the multi-layered performances. That glimpse is a superb transportation into a fascinating period of American folklore.
Speakeasy customers are encouraged to “dress up” and most do. I started out in the Bar, full of patrons who begin dialogues from the 1500-page script. A loudmouth ) Rasa Hill) brays on incessantly, Velma the brash saloon singer (Megan Wicks) and a psychologically wounded soldier (Dustin Katz) all tell their tales, stories that may twist and turn throughout the evening. Two vaudeville comedians, the excellent Clay David and Anthony Cistaro, do their shtick and we meet the club’s owner, gangster/bootlegger Sal (Mark Nassar).
Off to the Casino to play craps and blackjack with chips converted from the wooden nickel I was given at entrance. Here, the action gets more intense. Floyd, Velma’s racist husband (Brian Jansen), is in an ugly mood as verbally assaults the meek croupier Charley (Anthony Agresti). A drunk woman lies crumpled on a card table and the room is hastily cleared.
Onto the Cabaret, the crown jewel of this production. With its banquettes and lamped tables, the coffered ceilings and 5-piece band, the floor show is a blast. There was a mentalist act, sensational dance numbers and corny emceeing by Eddie the emcee (Anthony Cistaro). I could have stayed here all night watching these talented acts, but felt obliged to wander the hidden rooms, eavesdropping on conversations and mini-dramas happening all around me. The details, from the lamps, the coffered ceilings to the lavish men’s room was meticulous.
Not enough can be said about the transformation of this old space. Kudos to the technical crew: Lighting Design (Allen Wilner, Gabe Maxson, Brad Peterson), Prop Design (Kyle Nitchy), Costume Design (Abra Berman), Musical Direction (Benjamin Price), Choreography (Elizabeth Eller, Kimberly Lester), and Sound Design (Matthew Stines).
The Speakeasy began in 2010, catering to the millennial crowds used to secret locations, exploratory theatre, raves and performance pieces. This remounting, in its new space, is a stunning creation worthy of becoming a San Francisco mainstay.
Open ended run. www.thespeakeasysf.com 415.891.9744