The evening began innocently enough— a stroll down South Oxford Street in Brooklyn with a destination in mind; exhaling a drag from his Chesterfield, the bouncer asks for the password: “Jeepers-Creepers,” I tell him, half-expecting to hear “ruh roh” in response. Instead, he opens the door to a brownstone and shuffles us inside. We climb a flight of stairs and are greeted by yet another bouncer—this time, the price of admission is a bit higher.
“Not so fast,” he tells me as I walk toward the club door.
“Gotta pat you pansies down for contraband.”
My +1 does not begrudge the stranger his use of the word “pansies” and lifts his arms, laughing. I brace myself for a not-so-casual-torso-graze, which makes me rethink that pint of Häagen-Dazs I ate for dinner.
“They’re clean,” he tells the doorman. The sound of a crooning Louis Armstrong floods the entrance as the door opens—“Welcome to Charley’s Speakeasy” a red-lipped women with a sleek, black bob tells us.
“I’m Margo,” she says, extending a gloved hand.
Corseted actresses with balding feather boas, draped around their shoulders, pour us shots of “Poison,” an aptly named concoction I can only assume was grain alcohol or lighter fluid. Really, the Roaring 20s were not all that different than the Meatpacking District is today—women in fishnets and lingerie, passing out shots. Perhaps the only glaring difference is that the music was halfway decent back then.
The “hooch” circulating the room on brass cocktail trays makes its way back to us—the only real gamble of the night is doing a second round of shots. That part seems historically accurate—prohibition probably didn’t offer much in the way of alcohol variety, much less quality. As we lose a hand of Blackjack, The Earl of Rochester packs a pipe to my left.
“How do you know Charley?” he asks me.
“Well, I don’t actually.” He’s the third or forth person who’s asked me so far.
“I take it he’s the owner of this illustrious establishment?”
“Indeed, he is,” the Earl informs me.
Charley’s sister, Margo, is the frontrunner of the speakeasy. Or at least, Charley’s absence from the night’s festivities leaves us with that impression. Though the actors of Rising Sun Performance Company are all in character, 138 South Oxford Street once served as an actual breading ground for debauchery in the 20s. Charley, however elusive, is an historically supported figure, believed to be the original owner of the illicit club.
Personally, I think Charley is a straw boss (to borrow a colloquialism); the way Margo hustles, I have a feeling that she’s Charley—a decisively feminist power move. Margo’s part, played by Akia Squitieri, hints at such a possibility—Akia is also the show’s producer, a parallel that might lend credence to my theory.
Meanwhile, our table’s dealer, Bobby Baxter, has botched at least two hands so far—his attention seems to evaporate in the presence of a certain raven-haired, Homeric siren, circulating the room. Sylvia doesn’t seem to notice him gawking; she’s probably too busy being Gloria Gilbert Patch reincarnate.
Swilling another pair of shots (when in Rome, right?), our dealer confides in us his plans to run away with her.
“That’s nice. Is she aware of this?”
“We’re very much in love!” he assures me. Mhhmm.
Bobby Baxter excuses himself to speak with a disgruntled patron. And just as our luck at the Blackjack table turns, Bobby Baxter pulls out a gun. I guess the House really hates to lose.
“Hold it!” the dirty cop who felt up my date yells. Baxter announces that it’s a sting operation and a struggle ensues, littering the club with dead bodies—your typical Saturday night in Brooklyn.
For a night of not-so-light imbibing, down-on-your-luck gambling, and a truly immersive theatre experience, go to 138 South Oxford Street; just don’t forget the password at the door. Sadly, the Rising Sun Performance Company hosts their speakeasy event but once a year; but you can see them in action at their upcoming production, Barton Booth, this weekend.
Until then, mums the word.