The Huron Club, which is essentially the basement bar for the SoHo Playhouse in New York has a history. It was firstly a meeting place for the Democratic Party but then went on to provided welcome sustenance to those citizens in need of more than just tea during the Prohibition era. It’s appropriate then that this small, historic venue is home to the off-Broadway hit show, The Imbible.
The Imbible is a history of alcohol and its role in civilization.
The theatrics begin when the audience are asked to enter the venue by knocking at the side door that leads down a corridor and into the Huron Club bar – it wasn’t explained but presumably this was the entrance to the original jazz bar and speakeasy.
The stage is the entire bar area, where about 30 people were sat around tables of 2 or 4 enjoying the usual pre-theatre drinks before a quick dimming of the lights marked the beginning of the show and the entrance of our narrator/barman.
The Imbible is essentially an entertaining lecture. Images are relayed to the three plasma screens in the venue to illustrate certain points, experiments are demonstrated on the bar, and a chorus of three supporting cast break-up the narrative with sketches, songs and skits.
As the evening progresses, the audience become more involved and more vocal. This is in part a result of the three drinks served by the cast during the performance – a shandy, a whisky old fashioned and a gin and tonic.
The narrative charts the rise of civilization, the relationship between growing populations and sources of water, the eventual pollution of that water and the need for an alternative drink. Hello beer. Distillation followed and so too did drunkeness, which eventually led to the Volstead Act, better known as Prohibition. It starts as a general story about alcohol but ends up being about America’s relationship with drink.
10,000 years summed up in 90 minutes is inevitably going to be a compromise. Historians of the alcohol industry may take issue with some of the details or the particular route the scriptwriters have chosen but it isn’t really a lecture, it’s a show and as show it’s a success. It’s entertainment. It won’t win any awards for lighting or stage direction or characterisation (although the impersonation of Queen Elizabeth I was an interesting take). It was a fun, amusing, and informative evening. And you get three drinks and bowl of popcorn! What’s not to like?
All images from www.imbible.org