Immersive Edgar Allan Poe Ghost Story 'THE COOPING THEORY' Plays Brooklyn Speakeasy
The show, "The Cooping Theory: Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe?" by Nate Suggs and Samantha Lacey, takes stage every Wednesday in the reconstructed former speakeasy underneath St. Mazie Bar and Supper Club, 345 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (between Havemeyer and Marcy).
It's an immersive mystery production in the genre of "Then She Fell" (www.thenshefell.com) and "Sleep No More" (m.sleepnomorenyc.com), with one significant difference: unlike most immersive shows, which are dance-driven, this one is text-based. The room accommodates only 30 guests per night for an evening of craft cocktails, a full dinner and a paranormal experience, all set to the words of America's greatest master of the macabre. Previews began May 3. The production opens June 7 and will play Wednesdays only for an open-ended run.
The show is the brainchild of director Aaron Salazar and written by Nate Suggs and Samantha Lacey in collaboration with Salazar. It's set in 1949 in a place called St. Charles Cellar, a dark tavern that is the meeting place of the Poe Society. Three elite members of the Society have gathered in remembrance of the 100 Year Anniversary of the death of America's leading literary master of the gruesome and the grisley. They hope to induct new members into the Society as well as to attempt something that has never been done before: summon the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe and hopefully discover how he really died. However, their foray into the spirit world, achieved through the eyes of a medium, takes a sharp turn when the spirit of Poe arrives and events do not transpire as anyone would expect.
Poe's death in 1849 at age 40 is shrouded in mystery; explanations have included alcohol poisoning, tuberculosis, heart disease and rabies. In the show, the society is actually hoping to prove that Poe's death was a result of "cooping," a gang-based form of election fraud that was common in the early 19th century. Innocent bystanders were kidnapped by so-called 'cooping gangs' or 'election gangs' and forced to vote repeatedly for candidates of the political machines. Victims were kept in a room called a "coop" and liquored up to make them compliant. Often wardrobes were switched and they were disguised with wigs or fake beards to fool poll watchers. If they refused to cooperate, they were beaten or killed. This theory of Poe's death has been increasingly proposed by Poe scholars since the 1870s. But in the show, the theory becomes less of an explanation than a red herring. It is offered as one of several mysteries, which you can only solve depending on where you are sitting in the room. Other mysteries of the show are: was the medium a ghost, were all the characters ghosts and was it all a ruse? The audience members, who sit among people facing their collective horror, will wonder which one they identify with. Cerebral moments romanticising Poe encourage us to savor the major theme of the show: the futility of explaining any present horror intellectually.
Don't worry, no ghosts will sit in your lap. "We respect everybody's space," advises director Aaron Salazar.
Director Aaron Salazar describes the evening as "a mystical experience wrapped in booze and words." After you make your reservation, you receive an email invitation from the Poe Society to a cocktail party séance--it's all part of your orientation into the show, which is a plush, all-evening affair. The drinking and dining menus are available on the production's website (www.poseidontheatrecompany.com/cooping-venue-menu). Doors open and serving begins at 6:30 PM. The show starts at 8:00 PM, running 95 minutes plus intermission. Following the performance, there is live music offered upstairs for those who will stay, performed in a beautiful 1920's style bar with banquet seating and an outdoor patio. St. Mazie Bar and Supper Club is a drinking establishment and an adult must accompany guests under the age of 16. There is a $25 food and beverage minimum per guest. General seating is $75. Premium seating ($100) includes reserved table seating with a special view of the show and a speciality craft cocktail or glass of "bubbles" or two non alcoholic drinks. Discounts are available, including on Today Tix.
The speakeasy space, memorable and dramatic in itself, has been designed by John McCormick, the designer of Bar Velo, Five Leaves, Maison Premiere, PT, No Name Bar, Spritzenhaus and Manhattan's Smith and Mills. All these establishments are unique in their own special ways and all have received glowing reviews based on their timeless and beautiful designs. Bar Velo, originally named Cafe Moto, was a frequent shooting location for HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." (www.johnnymotodesign.com)
Poseiden Theatre Company is mounting its first major production with this immersive piece. Previously, the troupe mounted "Antigone" for four performances in an intimate and "immersive" setting at Alchemical Theater Lab. That production was praised in audience reviews for its mastery of mood, cohesive direction and strong acting. Aaron Salazar, artistic director, expects to go on to site-specific productions of "The Trojan Women" and "Hedda Gabler" and a new musical about teenage mystics that he is currently developing with Hassan Sayyed and Tyson Kelly (who 'played' John Lennon in "Rain" on Broadway and in "The Abby Sessions," a live re-staging of the Beatles at Abbey Road Studios that premiered at London's Royal Albert Hall and is now on concert tour).
The actors are Caroline Banks, Dara Kramer, Gordon Palagi, Jeffrey Robb and Samantha Lacey (understudy). Music is composed by Conor Heffernan and Manuel "Cj" Pelayo. Lighting design is by John Salutz. Costume design is by the ensemble.
IF YOU GO:
THE COOPING THEORY: WHO KILLED Edgar Allan POE?
Presented by Poseiden Theatre Company.
Previews May 3-31, opens June 7 for an open-ended run.
6:30 PM Wednesdays only.
Doors open at 6:30 PM. Show begins at 8:00 PM; runs 95 minutes plus intermission.
At St. Mazie Bar and Supper Club, 345 Grand Street, Williamsburg Brooklyn (between Havemeyer and Marcy)
Subways: L to Lorimer Street.
General seating $75, premium reserved seating $100, plus $25 food/drink miminum. Discounts are available, including on Today Tix.
Box office: 212-457-0889 | www.artful.ly/poseidon-theatre-company
Show's website: www.poseidontheatrecompany.com/thecoopingtheory.
Critics are invited on or after June 7 (opening date).
Pictured: Gordon Palagi in "The Cooping Theory: Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe?" Photo by Johannes Oberman.