I have attended productions presented by Reading Theater Project for a little over a year, and each time I see one of their productions I am reminded how important this theatre company is to Reading, Pennsylvania. I have experienced plays they presented that convey social commentary with an underlying message, and I have enjoyed learning of historical events that took place in Berks County through their original works. Speakeasy is no exception; it takes audiences back to the 1920s, and tells the tale of a fictitious speakeasy, the Diamond Mine, and its proprietor, Duchess, using events from Berks County’s history during prohibition from 1920 to 1933. Not only is this production informative, but it is also captivating.
According to a press release, “[Speakeasy] focuses on Reading, using historical characters, like Beer Baron Max Hassel and newspaper reporter Li’l Elmer Pickney, as well as fictional characters that bring the story of Reading to life. It balances the fun of flappers and burlesque with the dark side of bootleggers and illegal business.” As people enter the Olympian Ballroom audiences are transported back to the 1920s as the Hesse’s Hot 3 Jazz Trio entertains the audience before the show. In addition, the audience takes part in the show, as if everyone in the room is at the Diamond Mine (the name of the speakeasy in the show.) The amount of research that went into this production is significant, and the attention to detail in the show is remarkable. Speakeasy is an original work by playwright, Sue Lange, and is directed by Vicki Graff.
Speakeasy takes the audience on a journey encountering events of the 1920s: the 19th amendment (women’s right to vote,) prohibition, and the stock market crash of 1929. All these events occur as part of the plot that revolves around the Diamond Mine, which is run by the Duchess. Anita Lewis plays the Duchess, and she is charming and dazzling as she welcomes audiences to her club. Throughout the show there are gems of information revealed about Berks County and through the use of real and fictional characters the audience is provided a snapshot of what it may have been like to experience the prohibition era in Berks County. The show is complete with the Diamond Mine Thespians (Kira Apple, Marie DeBooth, Christine Cieplinski, Joel Gori), a few gangsters, and Diamond Mine regulars who all weave a tale about the roaring 1920s and prohibition in Reading. Speakeasy is Reading Theater Project at their best, and I would highly recommend this show to anyone who has not attended one of their shows.
Speakeasy runs through September 7, 2014. Currently they are sold out, and have a waitlist for anyone who wants to attend. For more information about this show, and their other projects visit their website at readingtheaterproject.com.
Final Thought: Take a journey back to the 1920s and visit the Diamond Mine where audiences will encounter a variety of characters and enjoy an unique theatrical experience.
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online sites broadwayworld.com and figlancaster.com and is a freelance writer. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on twitter @theatrescribe and on Facebook/theatresensation.
Photos courtesy of Reading Theatre Project