Before there was Hedwig and the Angry Inch, there was the wildly evocative underground theatrical world in New York City during Prohibition. This comes to live in a new production by written and composed by Danny Ashkenasi.
Speakeasy: John and Jane’s Adventures in the Wonderland shares the sexual freedoms
explored in the 1920s and 30s, and how those freedoms were ruined with the end of Prohibition. It is a love song to queer life in New York City and to forgotten entertainers such as Gene (Jean) Malin, the openly homosexual headline act of New York’s short-lived Pansy Craze of 1929; Vaudeville’s famous Dolly Sisters; the larger-than-life black lesbian singer Gladys Bentley of Harlem’s “Negro Vogue” fame; and the popular female impersonator Julian Eltinge, to name a few. The music in Speakeasy is based on various styles of the era, but with a modern twist, including Tin Pan Alley, musical theater, jazz, swing, cabaret, operetta as well as classical and agitprop strains of the time.
It’s 1929 in New York City. John and Jane Allison are newlyweds. Although they love each other, they have desires they haven’t even acknowledged to themselves, let alone explored. But after giving her neighbor, Roberta White, a kiss, Jane goes “down the rabbit hole,” entering the strange world of a Speakeasy, where time and space and identity don’t appear to follow conventional rules.
On accepting a sexual proposition in a public men’s room, John mysteriously slides “through the looking glass,” and in one fantastical magical realist dream night, they explore their sexuality through the course of two simultaneous and intertwining magical adventures. Lewis Carroll’s literary characters and events from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are transformed into real-life, historically significant entertainers and events from NYC’s Prohibition-era queer culture, with which Jane and John enjoy friendships and love affairs.
After a night of speakeasies, buffet flat parties, police raids, drag balls, and a bizarre trial, will they reveal their “dreams” to each other and “speak easy” about their truths?
Speakeasy: John and Jane’s Adventures in Wonderland
Theatre for the New City
155 First Avenue, NYC
February 18 – March 13