sleep no more

Okay, kids. We need to interrupt our usual programming because of the fact that I absolutely need to rave at great length about the incredible experience that was Sleep No More, okay?

There probably isn’t much to be said about it that hasn’t already been said — NYMag and NYTimes sum it up pretty well — but I basically still can’t stop talking about it after disappearing into a strange outer Chelsea warehouse for three hours last night.  For those who have missed the press hype, it’s a loosely interpreted “immersive” experience of Macbeth, updated to 1930’s noir and peppered with Hitchcok characters. Meaning: you enter, are given a white mask, are told that you may touch anything but never speak, and left to wander over 100 rooms in a massive, six-story space, while actors (often grabbing at the audience screaming, often having dramatic breakdowns, often climbing up the walls and furniture with inhuman agility, and often naked) move throughout the building acting out scenes from a more-or-less Macbeth, with most of the dialogue replaced with compelling, convulsive dance. 

The attention to detail in every last room is unbelievable: every drawer is filled with something (hair samples, cut paper, a silk stocking, dirt, dried flowers, love letters) and every room is impeccably lit, filled with strange sounds and even smells. The sheer labyrinthine volume of space (100,000 square feet, I believe) to be explored on all scales — from the enormous ballroom filled with pine trees to the last details of every paper in a detective’s file cabinet — adds to the strangely dreamlike, filmic, utterly bizarre impression you leave with: some details and events in perfect crisp detail, others a blur of flickering lightbulbs, velvet curtains, and a distant scream heard from down a hallway. 

For those who care about “plot,” (psh, what outdated notions!) obviously, it’s impossible to get the whole story — but who doesn’t know Macbeth by heart by now? Besides, we all know that if there’s one thing I totally get off on it’s DECONSTRUCTED UBER-POSTMODERN NARRATIVES and then you consider that it ALSO INCORPORATES ALL FIVE SENSES AND LITERALLY PHYSICALLY WALKING THROUGH THE NARRATIVE AND ALSO COMMUNITY EXPERIENCE AND HAVING TO PIECE TOGETHER THE STORY AFTER THE FACT AND ALSO CREEPY COSTUMES AND MASKS ALSO WITCHES AND DISGUSTINGLY CHIC FILM NOIR SETS HOLY CRAP SERIOUSLY, I mean, really. But beyond that? The whole thing was eerie, suspenseful, beautiful, and strangely sexy — completely haunting and, forgive all this hyperbole, probably unforgettable. I seriously want to spend another $80 to go back again. Totally worth it and if you’re in the area you should probably get a ticket like right the fuck now since it’s only playing until July 9th and available dates are getting limited.

image: V Magazine

The space was beautiful and nightmarish, especially in the way your journey physically creates the narrative — as in dreams, a twisting corridor lined with children’s bedrooms (naturally!) suddenly becomes an outside graveyard, dimly lit, noticeably cooler and more humid, and thick with the smell of wet ground.  Behind a brick wall in the graveyard you find a candlelit room, surrounded on three sides by French doors (sometimes open, but an hour later, locked) which is bare save for a blood-filled bathtub on a pedestal, a handful of torn papers (love letters, upon closer inspection), and a woman’s slip lying in a puddle on the floor.  A flight of stairs leads to a psych ward of a hospital, where a nurse with her cap askew sits meticulously cutting perfect squares from a textbook with a razor blade; in the next room, the walls of a padded room are pierced with hundreds of black feathers, and in the next, fluttering laundry and a strong wind, and then suddenly and without warning you find yourself in a labyrinth of wrought-iron gates and white birch trees.  After fifteen minutes of wandering you finally discover another flight of stairs, which leads to a candy shop (caramel-scented, with jars of real sweets you can eat) which in turn faces a witches’ lair filled with dried herbs, skulls, and old, yellowed books of spells, which in turn leads to a cabaret where (I’m not joking about this) a naked man wearing a bull mask and horns dances on a table as two half-naked witches writhe out of their evening gowns under the strobe lights to pounding dance music, convulsing and smearing themselves with blood that they drink from crystal-cut shot glasses, alternately crying and laughing maniacally. 

Then there’s the actors — Lady Macbeth, whom I first found naked in a bathtub crying, encountered me later, her hair still wet but now clad in a backless sequin evening gown, fell to the floor clutching at my skirt, screaming that I was a ghost, before slamming herself into the wall and collapsing into the arms of another audience member, in tears and mumbling about the perfumes of Arabia.  Down the hall, a bellhop dragged another young boy in a tuxedo into a phonebooth to kiss while a woman in a red evening gown and velvet gloves flirted wordlessly with an audience member before throwing him into a closet, which was probably another hallway. Ten minutes later, Macduff and his very pregnant lady fought and made up through dance moments before their murder, climbing bookshelves to kiss each other joyfully ten feet above my head. And then there was a black mass, and the hanging, and the man dying in a strange tent strewn with roses, and the woman in the tweed skirt who wrote on a piece of paper “plant this seed and it will tell you who is friend and who is foe” before running from the room — who they all were, I have no idea.

It’s an oddly visceral experience and an out-of-body one at the same time — as if one of the most well known plays by the most well known playwright of the English language became some kind of choose-your-own-adventure/Myst (REMEMBER THAT YOU GUYS) hybrid, while looking as if Eyes Wide Shut was set in the hotel from The Shining, with Hitchcock as the director instead.  Mostly though, it seems like a dream:  everything, as in dreams, seems to lack structure, shape, meaning, or a sense of time and place — both events and rooms seem to blur together and lead into each other in strange ways that leave you, as when waking, trying to piece together details that seem just out of reach.

Plenty of photos after the jump — although aside from the shot of my mask above, they’re all jacked from other places, as photography was prohibited — but I definitely don’t regret abandoning my only links to the outside world (camera, phone, bag) before entering the maze. (ScoutingNY also did a great April Fool’s post claiming that the space was actually an abandoned hotel, for a better idea of the intricacy of some of the sets.)