“Tammany Hall” an entertaining immersive look back at 1929 Walker-LaGuardia mayoral debate

By Lucy Komisar

On election eve I went to a political debate between the Democratic and Republican candidates for mayor of New York. I had a good time.

Martin Dockery as Beau James Walker and Christopher Romero Wilson as Fiorello LaGuardia, photo Maria Baranova.

No, it wasn’t between the two lackluster candidates for mayor 2021. It was a much more exciting, well, much more fun event between the candidates and campaign boosters of Jimmy Walker (Martin Dockery), running for re-election, and Fiorella LaGuardia  (a terrific Christopher Romero Wilson), seeking to dethrone the crook.

It was 1929 and the place was the Huron Club on Vandam Street in Soho, except it wasn’t called Soho then. It was a Democratic clubhouse and is exactly the building where the Soho Playhouse is putting on this immersive political event.

It was co-created and co-directed by Darren Lee Cole, artistic director of SoHo Playhouse, and Alexander Wright, creator of The Great Gatsby, the U.K.’s longest running immersive show.

Immersive because as you walk through rooms of “the Club,” you interact with the actors, I mean politicians. There’s text and then there are improvisations as actors, always in character, chat with the audience, I mean voters.

Jesse Castellano as Kresel, photo Maria Baranova.

It starts out in a room with chairs set around a boxing ring, though that was symbolic: the slug-fest would be all verbal. We staked out chairs next to a small round table on which to set glasses of wine ($10). Twenties music plays in the background. And there are some real-life entertainers about to open a show.

Oh, and also Kresel (Jesse Castellanos), chief counsel to Judge Seabury who was commissioned by Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt to investigate corruption, fraud and unlawful conduct by Tammany Hall and Walker.

Walker asks LaGuardia if he had trouble finding the club. No, he says, he called police precinct 1 and asked “Where do I go to vote? Apply for a job? Get an illegal drink.” Forgot to say the clubhouse was also a speakeasy. It’s Prohibition, remember? In the traditional apparel for political scoundrels, Walker is draped in an American flag.

Some Walker henchmen explain tactics for governing and staying in power, including 10% kickbacks for contracts, having bearded men vote once, shave, vote again. Their relationships with local gangsters, who have control over police. We hear that the police, who are in the Mob’s pocket, pick up women. They get kickbacks from bail and hush money.

However, Walker brags about what he did for women’s suffrage, the minimum wage, the subway. “Power for the people!” he declares.

Showgirls: Marie Anello as Betty Compton, Chloe Kekovic as KiKi Roberts, Charly Wenzel as Ritzi, Sami Petrucci as Smarty, photo Maria Baranova.

There are some 15 rooms where events occur, and you won’t, you can’t, go to all of them. I never saw any trysts in the penthouse suite or a Follies rehearsal. Maybe you’re with Walker, maybe LaGuardia. Talking, asking, schmoozing. The guy I was with said it felt like he was there! It all ends downstairs at the speakeasy.

One more thing, as you leave, you cast your ballot in a box. Of course, you don’t know if it will be counted or the box stuffed!

“Tammany Hall.” Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, New York City. Boxoffice@sohoplayhouse.com.  (212) 691-1555. (5:30pm-10:30pm, Tues-Sun). Opened Nov 3, 2021, closes Nov 28, 2021. Review on NYTheatre-Wire.

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