Pam Dylag unlocks the door of Velveteen Rabbit and lets the sun in. It’s 2 p.m., but after a long First Friday evening it’s still practically morning. The hushed bar exudes a sensual languor as a group of actors troops in, getting ready to rehearse The Cat’s Meow, an immersive theater event from Troy Heard’s Table 8 Productions that will take over the space for two Mondays in May, the 16th and 23rd, and transport it into jazz-era intrigue.
“The Cat’s Meow is a thriller set in 1924 about an event that occurred onboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht, en route from LA to San Diego,” Heard says. The occasion was the celebration of Thomas Ince’s birthday. Ince was a pioneering Hollywood studio head who found his star waning. He wanted to team up with Hearst to revitalize his studio—but one love triangle, some intrigue and a gunshot later, Ince didn't make it off the yacht alive. The conceit of the production is, “you’re actually on the yacht, you’re actually at the party. It’s like being at a cocktail party with some of the luminaries of the ’20s.”
And just like being at a cocktail party, the show is designed to be intimate, glamorous and engaging. “There’s a character, Elinor Glyn, who was a novelist; she’s the narrator. She breaks the fourth wall at the beginning of the show and talks to the audience about the allure of Hollywood, and the Hollywood curse: No one escapes pure,” Heard says. “When you have this character guiding you on this journey being able to sit on the edge of your chair, it just brings you into a new level of engagement.”
Dylag and her staff at Velveteen Rabbit will be doing their part to make the show engaging. Bartenders will be dressed to evoke the period, guests will be greeted with a free cocktail—the Bee’s Knees—and a further menu of Prohibition-era drinks. The show will take place throughout the bar, but won’t require walking around—so audience members won’t spill their drinks and won’t miss a thing.
“I really wanted to do a theater piece in the bar, where the actors were with our customers and guests,” says Dylag, explaining why she reached out to Heard to make the show happen. “I just felt like he was the perfect person to pair with.” And when Heard’s wife Kady brought him the script, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. “I love the era. I love Hollywood. And it’s a very classic Hollywood-Babylonesque tale,” he says.
The pairing makes sense. Even in the afternoon with all the doors and windows open, the bar remains cloaked in mystery and luxury, dim and voluptuous. “It just feels right; the vibe’s right,” Heard says. “It’s mystery, intrigue, a damn good time—and excellent cocktails.”
The Cat's Meow May 16 & 23, 7 p.m., $25-$30, Velveteen Rabbit, 1218 S. Main St. Table 8 Productions, 702-423-6366.