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I live in Brooklyn, NY and I love it here.  I came here for my career in 2009 and haven't once looked back. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sleep no more...

Oooo! Free wifi in DUMBO! How cool! Blah blah blah whatever, I had the coolest night last night. Really. I'm so excited about it I can't even get excited about having free wifi in the park. I went to see Sleep No More with a free ticket from my work. What an incredible time! I don't even know where to begin.

I feel like this is the kind of play where you could go not knowing too too much about it and have an amazing time still…mostly because of how alarming it might be to walk into this place not knowing what to expect and how unique your experience would be. You get taken for quite a ride. It's a modern dance production of Macbeth crossed with Hitchcock's Rebecca and set in an old warehouse that they've cleverly reconstructed into a hotel, The McKittrick Hotel (apparently a reference to Hitchcock's Vertigo), with several floors of intricately decorated sets (of which you can and should touch anything and everything). You are allowed to walk around the hotel during the performance, following performers from scene to scene or just exploring the place to your heart's content. Also, you are made to wear a mask and told not to talk during the performance so it becomes a highly individualized experience. You could be all alone exploring the hotel and it feels like your own little adventure. There is period music and Bernard Herman scores pumping through all the speakers as you wander from room to room providing the eeriest of soundtracks. Goose bumps covering my skin most of the time, I got lost rather easily and, in my disorientation, was always surprised when I came back upon something I had already seen. When we first entered the hotel, there was a 1930s era bar filled with fake smoke at which you could order a drink, punctuated by a stage with piano and drums set up. Here, we waited for a gentleman, presumably the host, who stood on the stage to call us up according to the playing card we were given upon entering the hotel. I was a 3 of diamonds so, once I realized they were going in sequential order from Aces up through whatever, I had to guzzle my scotch that I was drinking. We were then masked and given instructions and then funneled into an elevator.

Now, I went in having heard a ton about my co workers' experiences who had seen it last Tuesday so I don't feel too terribly bad sharing most of mine. I'd say spoiler alert but honestly, you won't have the same experience as me if you go. So, consider this a preview.

One co worker told me about how he ended up being the first off the elevator and how the elevator operator stopped the other audience members from leaving the elevator. Now my co worker was totally alone in the near pitch black hallway and eventually a woman walked up to him with an old fashioned wheelchair which she directed him to sit in. She wheeled him into a room and reclined the wheelchair so he was looking up at the ceiling when the lights came on to reveal a painted ceiling (I believe that's what he described). Anyway, the woman kissed him on the cheek and told him he'd never be able to see that place again and then promptly sent him on his way.

I did not have the same experience though I expectantly waited to be the last on the elevator so that I'd be the first off. As had happened with my co worker, I was the only one let off the elevator while the others were held back. I turned slyly to my fellow audience members to see their stunned expressions showing through their masks as I raised my eyebrows and grinned though they couldn't see my face.

The floor that I found myself on was a psychiatric ward with rows of beds and charts describing patient conditions. I wandered through the ward into another room lined with claw-footed bath tubs, one of which was filled with water. More on this later.

It wasn't long before I ran into other audience members and started to traipse around amongst them exploring, picking things up and reading letters on the desks and tables. Soon after, actors started to appear. It was quite hilarious to watch every one perk up and start swarming after them as they moved out of the rooms. I won't say much about the scenes acted out so as at least not to spoil that aspect for any of you who might go but I will say that it was some amazing acrobatic stuff and that the costumes were spectacularly done as well. I found myself in one particular scene shortly after that my co workers described as the naked goat head man dead baby orgy scene. Use your imagination and don't hold back.

This is where my experience got way weird and incredibly exciting at the same time. After the strobe lights went down and after one of the dancers, supposedly one of the witches from Macbeth, did her solo dance, a lady in red with feathers walked past me and trailed her feathers along my neck as I locked eyes with her through my mask. After watching a scene unfold between her and another woman, she began to leave and made the same motion with her feathers along my neck and so I did what any curious audience member might have done and followed her out of the room. She turned at one point, in the hall, and met my eyes again, studied me for a second and then grasped my arm and gently pulled me into a room, closing the door quickly behind us. Not sure where she was going with this, but terribly curious and excited to be essentially in the scene with her, no longer a passive observer, I consented to join her. She studied my face again and then drew in closer, lifting my mask. At this point, she quickly turned to a desk covered in tiny vials and jars and raised one to my lips. It tasted salty and I imagined it was either salt water or tears. Either way, I didn't exactly drink it but some dribbled down my chin at which point she hastily turned and grabbed a note, saying, "I need you to take this to the porter in the hotel!" I asked, "Downstairs?" She nodded, "I can trust you with this?" I said yes and she pulled me towards the door, then quickly turned to me and kissed me on my mask and then shoved me out the door.

Holding the note in my hand, I began to frantically run through the hotel, now fully ensconced in the action of the play, feeling truly a part of it, trying desperately to trace my steps back to the hotel. Before I could get very far, new scenes were unfolding in front of me and I got drawn in. Then I started to think, "This is just a play! Of course, I don't need to take the note if I don't want to, and I can't be that big of a deal if I don't find the porter right away and besides, I don't even know which one is the porter!" The gentleman on the microphone in the bar could have been the porter, so could the elevator operator. I was at a loss and the play was happening before my eyes. So I chose to follow the actors that I first saw and wound up watching scene after scene unfold not sure at what point in the narrative we were. Some were more obvious. Lady Macbeth was played by a young woman who, at one point, was stripped nude and was washing blood off herself in the same bath tub I had noticed earlier in the psychiatric ward. When I saw it this time the water was tinged red already, a sign that the scene had already played out once before by the time I came back to the room. As the scenes changed I followed her and watched her dances which were incredibly choreographed and artfully executed. The most fantastic scene I saw took place in a giant ballroom with a huge table on an elevated stage. I figured that this was the banquet scene at the end of Macbeth. Seeing this climactic scene for the second time signaled to me that the play was through its second run of the evening and that it would soon be over. The disorientation complete, I was startled when I found myself jumping out into the hotel bar to the sounds of a jazz band in full swing (no pun intended) and being pulled into the room by grinning hosts, shuffling me onto the dance floor where I was offered champagne and absinthe. Here I joined up with some co workers who I knew were attending but whom I had not seen the whole night (masks and all that). So I sat with a fellow media operator and watched the band while swilling a shot of absinthe, something I had wished I knew they served before I paid $15 for Johnnie Walker Black Label earlier in the evening.

I'm finding out more and more about what I was seeing as I read the reviews linked from Sleep No More's website. Here's a really good one I'm currently devouring. The reviewer really captures the essence of what an evening at the McKittrick hotel will entail and even gives really good tips, one of which I may take if I happen to get the chance to see it again before it closes in September. That is, read Macbeth and/or see Rebecca.

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