CYN­THIA VON BUH­LER

Di­rec­tor, artist, per­former, au­thor – Cyn­thia has many strings to her bow. We delve into her world of mys­tery, in­trigue and the­atre

Real Crime - - Contents -

The per­former, artist and au­thor takes us in­side her lat­est work, The Girl Who Hand­cuffed Hou­dini

Can you tell us a bit about what drew you to the story or Hou­dini’s death? What was it about the shad­owy na­ture of his pass­ing that ap­pealed to you?

Thanks to Hol­ly­wood, some peo­ple think Hou­dini drowned in his wa­ter tor­ture cham­ber. Oth­ers be­lieve Hou­dini was punched and that this led to ap­pen­dici­tis. I knew Hou­dini had been de­bunk­ing spir­i­tu­al­ists in the years lead­ing up to his death, so I was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the lesser- known fact that it was a spir­i­tu­al­ist who had punched him. Bess’s al­most deadly ‘ food poi­son­ing’ at the start of his last tour, spir­i­tu­al­ist pre­dic­tions of his im­pend­ing death, and the bizarre ad­min­is­tra­tion of an ex­per­i­men­tal serum after his ap­pen­dix was re­moved fu­elled my be­lief that he may have been mur­dered.

Your cre­ative projects are steeped in the­atri­cal­ity. How did you first be­come in­ter­ested in the­atre?

My Ital­ian im­mi­grant grand­par­ents owned two speakeasies in the Bronx dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion. Shortly after Pro­hi­bi­tion ended my grand­fa­ther was killed on the street in Man­hat­tan. No­body still liv­ing in my fam­ily knew why my grand­fa­ther was shot. When I be­gan my search, noth­ing was known about the killer, his mo­tive, or a trial. My grand­mother took these se­crets to her grave. In­spired by Frances Gless­ner Lee’s minia­ture crime scene sets from the 1940s, I de­cided to cre­ate the scenes from my grand­fa­ther’s death us­ing my own hand­made sets and dolls.

Util­is­ing ev­i­dence from au­topsy re­ports, po­lice records, court doc­u­ments and in­ter­views, I built a doll­house- sized speakeasy and other re­lated sets. I also cre­ated life­like dolls with move­able limbs to live in these sets.

Tak­ing it to another level, I de­cided to use hu­mans as my dolls in an elab­o­rate the­atri­cal set. Each show ex­plored a dif­fer­ent mo­tive be­hind the mur­der, from jeal­ousy over a sus­pected af­fair to a Mafia hit.

The Minky Wood­cock graphic novel also has a stage adap­ta­tion. Can you tell us a lit­tle more about the project?

My pub­lisher at Hard Case Crime came to my plays and asked me if I was work­ing on any other sto­ries. I told him I was writ­ing a tele­vi­sion se­ries about a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor named Minky Wood­cock, who was in­ves­ti­gat­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion- era true crime mur­ders and one of the episodes was about Harry Hou­dini. He liked this idea and signed me on for this book se­ries. I am now cur­rently shop­ping the se­ries to tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies.

The play will un­fold in an ac­tual Man­hat­tan the­atre, speakeasy and town­house. Au­di­ence mem­bers will be as­signed a char­ac­ter to fol­low and then ex­pe­ri­ence events through that char­ac­ter’s point of view. They might find them­selves as­sist­ing the magician’s re­hearsal back­stage in a the­atre, sip­ping ab­sinthe in a speakeasy, spy­ing on an af­fair in a ho­tel room, wit­ness­ing an at­tempted mur­der, at­tend­ing a séance, visit­ing Hou­dini in his hos­pi­tal room, or view­ing his body in the morgue.

The pro­duc­tion of­fers up a metic­u­lously de­tailed slice of Hou­dini his­tory, and au­di­ences are en­cour­aged to come back again to fol­low other key play­ers and see al­ter­nate facets of what ac­tu­ally led to Hou­dini’s fate­ful death. Ev­i­dence is re­vealed, but the truth is left up to the the­atre­goer to de­cide.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re work­ing on next and where our

read­ers can find out more?

In 2015 I staged Ziegfeld Mid­night Frolic, an im­mer­sive play about the mys­te­ri­ous 1920 poi­son­ing death of silent film star and Ziegfeld girl Olive Thomas, and the sub­se­quent de­struc­tion of her hus­band, movie star Jack Pick­ford. This story will be the next Minky Wood­cock episode. Your read­ers can find out more about this in­ves­ti­ga­tion at Ziegfeld Mid­night Frolic. com

Cyn­thia von Buh­ler’s The Girl

Who Hand­cuffed Hou­dini is pub­lished by Ti­tan Comics

and is avail­able now

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