Punchdrunk's larger-than-life theatrical, SLEEP NO MORE, takes being a fly on the wall to another level.
Last night, a friend (an appreciator of the arts and an artist in her own right) and I escaped from the drudgery of suburbia and "checked" into the McKittrick Hotel in NYC. Or rather, we quietly, a bit nervously, lined up behind other "hotel guests" on the sidewalk of 27th street, waiting to be let in at our purchased check-in time. We were ID'd and stamped in approval and exactly at 7:30 a pair of industrial sized, ancient-looking doors opened and we were ushered into the dark. Literally into the dark. Dark as in, I could not see my own hand as I scratched my nose. I had to coat-check my tiny sling - we had been informed (before) that only what can be held in pockets will be allowed inside the "hotel" but smart-aleck that I am, I thought a tiny cross-body sling shouldn't be a problem. Well, it was. So I checked it in, stuffed the essentials in my pockets and proceeded to the "lobby" where our "hotel reservation" was validated and we were given "cards" (think keys) and guided one floor up into a lounge/bar/waiting area (think speakeasies or Greta Garbo.)
Once there, my friend and I were confused. Um. What should we do now, was what we and the 100 or so other "guests" were all thinking. Do we just disperse and explore the hotel? Where are the actors? When's the drama beginning? Is there a program? Is there a freaking map? Patience is a virtue was proved. A shared shot of absinthe, ginger and something else helped our anxiety. We took a table, were greeted by this glittering, film noir kind of woman holding a champagne glass who told us...okay, I'm not sure what she told us but I figured we were exactly where we were supposed to be.
With me still? LOL. It's an experience, this performance (for want of a better word) of SLEEP NO MORE. 3D movies have nothing on this total immersion type of theatre where we are not just watching a play from our seats but are ghosts walking through the sets of the play, seeing the actors act from all directions, touching what they touch, sitting where they sit. I drew the line at submerging myself in the bloody bathwater where Lady Macbeth washes the blood off Macbeth's hands. But, the water was warm, I can vouch for that. But I'm getting ahead in the sequence of events.
So, the film noir woman eases our apprehensions and floats off to do the same to the other "guests." Then a tuxedoed man comes up on stage and announces (thank God!) that we're about to begin. He asks all the guests who held Aces (the cards we were given at check-in finally make sense) to please gather on one side. We do. We're led into a tiny room where Ms. Film Noire explains whats about to unfold a bit more and makes us put on masks. Yes! The whole audience is masked like the phantoms of an opera. The Ace card holders are then stuffed (okay not stuffed but ushered again) into an elevator and small batches of us are let out on different floors. My friend was let out on the 5th and when I tried to follow her out, I was barred by the elevator man. He said the whole thing was an individual experience and that friends might meet or not during our "experience" depending on the paths we take. Obviously, we'd meet at the end when they threw us out.
So, the 4th floor it was for me (I just knew it would happen to me) as I followed the few others who'd been let out with me, we walked into a freaking graveyard - piles of earth beneath my feet, headstones brushing my thighs, eerie grave-digging music filling my ears, dry-ice in my nostrils and a mask on my face. Full sensory experience? Sure, and then some.
I'm not going to give anymore details and spoil it for the people who'll have the good fortune to experience this...this...I won't call it simply a play. It's so much more than that. It's an engagement of yourself with the arts. Where you are the artist, the playwright, the director, the curtain boy, the candy thief and the Peeping Tom. You direct your experience. You discover the plot. You become the play. You are the player.
I loved it. The running up and down 5 flights of stairs, following various actors embarking on murder and mayhem for 3 whole hours was a blast. And did I mention, there is no dialogue at all.