Last week I went to Sleep No More, a [play? interactive experience? craziest thing I’ve ever experienced?] that I first heard about from my friend Jay, though has apparently been all the rage amongst the NYC scene. (He had gone once before and ended up in the same group as a very preggo Natalie Portman and her fiance. If it’s good enough for them, figured I could swing it.) Actually, his description of it sounded absolutely bizarre and frankly, a little scary. So of course as I was planning what I wanted to do while in New York for my birthday it was on the agenda. Facing my fears and all that adult shit.
It didn’t disappoint. We had the latest Friday night showing, and upon entering they took my purse. As in coat-checked it, which was basically mandated by the show’s organizers. Ladies, there is nothing more disconcerting than having a total stranger cut the handbag umbilical cord, especially knowing that you’re about to get separated from your date and wander around in an eerie room wearing an Eyes Wide Shut mask for the next three hours. (Visions of “Socialites Perish in Faux-Hotel Fire: Was it a Sex Ring?” headlines tormented my imagination.) But I’m getting ahead of myself here, aren’t I?
We all were given a playing card; Jay’s was 13 and mine was the Joker. (We we in for a real-life OAR song?) We then walked, very haunted-house style, in the dark and descended upon a maroon lounge adorned in 30’s-style decor. They were calling people in groups based on their playing card, but lucky us, we were both wild. (The irony is not lost on me.) After quickly downing a drink (courage!) we all received a white, pointy-faced mask (my Eyes Wide Shut reference), followed an attendant into an elevator and told very clearly that there would be NO TALKING. Shushing happened (there were a few drunkos) and we began our ascent to the 5th floor where we were very firmly told to get out and begin to explore.
I suppose I should stop here to note that I knew very, very little about this experience going in; I was aware that I would likely get separated from Jay (happened within five minutes), that there was no talking and that we should be very curious, going into the multiple rooms making up the “McKittrick Hotel”, picking up and examining objects and try to figure out what was happening. I also had heard that there was an orgy-slash-abortion/birth scene, based only on the fact I had previously instructed how to get fake blood off of Jay’s white pants a few weeks back. (Lestoil & cold water, soak for hours, and soak some more. Sue Sabala’s secret to the Universe.) So I walked out of the elevator somewhat apprehensively and found myself in what appeared to be a hospital ward for an insane asylum. There was a man in another room cleaning out a bloodstained outfit in a bathtub and when I turned down a hospital bed, it was full of potatoes. Next to the bed was the doctor’s notes; you could read about the patient and even open drawers and wander through five or six floors at your leisure. A scavenger’s (and voyeur’s) dream.
After about twenty minutes of self-exploration (and not the type that will make you blind nor discover unresolved Daddy issues), the show began. Because there is no one experience here, I can only say that I started witnessing scenes from the show (the actors were not wearing masks) and that we could follow them to try and discern what was happening by their interactions with other actors & actresses. Some people followed one actor; others would watch a scene for a while before moving on to another one in a different part of the ‘hotel’. I did a little of both, especially when I found the hot young philandering husband of a very pregnant woman who was also involved in a tryst with a nubile young asian woman. You know, art imitating life. There were a few times during the nearly three hours where it seemed that all (or the majority?) of the people in my group convened in a large room in the basement for a few of the more pinnacle moments of the night.
By the time it was finished, I was emotionally (and physically; I ran up and down countless flights of stairs) exhausted. (My three hours of sleep the evening prior didn’t help this much.) But also exhilarated and still thoroughly confused. I had heard it referenced Macbeth but it’s been far too long since I’ve caught up on my Shakespeare that I just kept trying to discern the plot when actually only catching bits and pieces of the scenes. For those of you needing to make sense of everything from limited information, this may very well drive you crazy.
Overall, it was incredible. I was amazed by the level of detail & attention that went in to each and every room as well as the choreography of the actors. I was never scared, though it was eerie and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Far less haunted house and much more suspense drama. (Though, wuss that I am, made Jay promise me that nobody would be jumping from behind a corner to scare the daylights out of me. No screams were heard, if that eases anybody’s fears.) I welcomed my cocktail afterwards as I compared experiences with my friend, who of course had a totally different experience than I did. Upon leaving (and successfully retrieving my lifeline, err, purse/phone), I walked away into a summer downpour wanting to read every review on the show (which I still have yet to do; wanted to write this first without being affected) and pick up the Classics. Oh, and wanting to go back for another round of insanity. Toil & trouble, indeed.
Addendum: Just read the following artices: NY Times & Forbes. Both provide a better overall picture of the experience (and I’d hope are somewhat of a compliment to my ramblings above) but they fail to mention my exclusive: drunken people like making out in faux-macabre hotels in Chelsea. Those hospital beds I mentioned above apparently were put to multiple uses.
Sleep No More has been extended through September, and you can bet your ass I’ll be another guest in the McKittrick hotel once again (horizontal hospital bed mambo notwithstanding.)