Review: The Speakeasy (*****)

(Charles Kruger)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“The Speakeasy” plays at an undisclosed location through April 26, 2014—and probably longer.)

When you purchase a ticket for “The Speakeasy” you will receive notice to look for a man or woman holding a yellow book or perhaps wearing a green hat. Whatever the code, you’ll find him or her at a certain place near San Francisco’s Civic Center. Approaching your contact, you must provide a secret password and only then receive instructions on where to find and enter The Speakeasy. What with the mysterious website and the strange instructions (including the suggestion that you dress in period costume) the fun begins days before you actually attend the event. Really, kiddo, this stuff is the cat’s pajamas.

Director Nick Olivero has collaborated with a stellar troupe of writers, designers, musicians and actors to create an immersive experience that will blow your mind.

After jumping through the intitial hoops, you’ll find yourself standing in front of Joe’s Clock Shop—a convincing storefront located on a real street in downtown San Francisco. Enter, and you’ll find, not a theatre, but what appears to be an actual shop, stuck in the early 20th century. You’ll have to find the secret latch to open the door into The Speakeasy: a series of rooms including a period bar, a casino and a cabaret. From the furniture, to the cocktail glasses, to the light fixtures, to the costumes, to the period music every detail has been attended too. You ARE in a 1920s Speakeasy. Even the body language of the doorman has been polished. Everybody is in on the act.

Gabe Kenney, Gabriel Montoya and Jamie Castner are featured among the huge cast of Boxcar Theatre's immersive theatrical experience, "The Speakeasy". Photo Credit: Peter Liu.
Gabe Kenney, Gabriel Montoya and Jamie Castner are featured among the huge cast of Boxcar Theatre’s immersive theatrical experience, “The Speakeasy”. Photo Credit: Peter Liu.

Before long, the “professional” entertainment will arrive. There is for example, a lousy (but funny) ventriloquist and a similarly awful magician. Later there will be an entire cabaret act with a troupe of dancers and a star turn by the wonderful Nikola Printz (in the character of Velma). Her act alone would make for a fine evening out on the town.

Actors perform complex scenes seamlessly, at the bar, at the crap table, in the cabaret. At times, you may not even be sure who is acting and who is not.

Director Olivero has drawn upon a mind boggling well of talent to create this dream of an experience. The press kit detailing their resumes consumes 25 pages! Associate headwriter Tim Bauer (for example), among other distinctions, has previously received a full-length play commission from the Magic Theatre. Choregorapher Kelsey  Bergstrom has performed with the Joffrey Ballet, no less. The rest of the company has equally impressive bona fides.

You won’t care about any of this when in the midst of the fantasy however. You’ll just know, from moment to moment, that you are in the loving hands of truly expert storytellers. Just give yourself over and play along for an experience you will never forget.

The stories told at The Speakeasy are both accessible and complex, shallow and deep, emotionally authentic and intellectually stimulating. And you can order drinks at the bar all night long!

The company of The Speakeasy has achieved a marriage of lowbrow and highbrow that is unlike anything else. The themes are complex, and all the stories interrelate. In short, The Speakeasy is much more than a novelty; it is theatrical art of a high order.

This thing is gonna run forever.

For further information, click here.

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“The Speakeasy” conceived and created by Nick A. Olivero. Head Writer: Barry Eitel. Associate Head Writer: Tim Bauer. Writers: Bennett Fisher, Geoffrey Nolan, Nick A. Olivero, Peter Ruocco. Miriam Wilson. Directors: Nick A. Olivero & Peter Ruocco. Choreographer: Kelsey  Bergstrom. Music Supervisor: Rachel Robinson. Scenic Designers: Geoffrey Nolan & Nick A. Olivero. Technical Dirrector: Geoffrey Nolan. Costume Designers: Tammy Berlin & Wesley Crain. 

Mary: Anca Cristina Botez. Mildred: Anna Calvin. Bernie: Nathan Maxwell Cann. Pianist: Matthew Lee Cannon. Evelyn: Jaime Castner. Swing, Ruth/Eloise: Jessica Chisum. Tic The Drummer: Quinten T. Cohen. Croupier: Robert Ferguson. Dorothy: Caitlin Michelle Gardner. Charlotte: Danielle Gray. Harold: Jeffrey Hoffman. Harry: Mark “Gabriel” Kenney. Eloise: Annie Larson. Herman: Justin Liszanckie. Bosley The Magnificent: David Magidson. Saul: Ed Mann. Cliff: Brian Martin. Mickey: Gabriel Montoya. Eugene: Emma Peel. Velma: Nikola Printz. Katherine: Sara Renauer. Virginia: Sara Ris. Archie: Gabriel A. Ross. Ruth: Mary Samson. Vivian: Sarah Savage. Croupier 2: Michael Sela. Sarah: Parker Sela. Tom: Davie Sikula. Swing/Eloise: Holly Silk. Leland: Zach Stewart. Croupier 3: John  Tranchitella. Benny Singer: Will Trichon. Viola: Kasondra Walsh. Johnny: Joe Yiakis. Croupier #4: Timm Yuen. Kirby: Ted Zoldan. 

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