Before I regale you with my harrowing tale of Sleep No More, an immersive entanglement of haunted mansion meets interactive theater performance; I feel I should teach you a bit about myself, allowing you to fully understand my experience with this mysterious off-Broadway masterpiece.
- I am the type of New Yorker that has only been to two Broadway shows, The Book Of Mormon (before people were obsessed with it) and The Pee-Wee Herman Show;
- I am the type of student that took full advantage of Spark Notes in high school, rather than fighting my way through Hamlet or Macbeth;
- I am the type of straight girl that gets rather excited to see boobs. I think they are pretty, and I enjoy seeing how I stack up to women who aren’t in the pornographic entertainment industry;
- I am the type of girl that uses the word boobs;
- I am the type of movie enthusiast that prefers movies like Jackass 3D and The Hang Over to those that star Nicole Kidman, such as Eyes Wide Shut; and
- I am the type of girlfriend that drags her significant other around an abandoned warehouse in search of wild witch orgies.
Being fully aware of these astute personality traits of mine, it’s no wonder I was completely and utterly mystified as to what my Monday night would entail. As far as I was concerned, I had a ticket to go to an abandoned warehouse where there was a performance with lots of blood and naked people, specifically a witch orgy, and apparently after seeing it, I would “sleep no more.” I was sold!
Earlier in the day an artistic co-worker of mine attempted to amuse me with her fantastic account of Sleep No More.
“It’s just like Eyes Wide Shut!” she attempted.
“I don’t watch movies with Nicole Kidman.” I explained.
“It is extremely similar to Macbeth,” she persisted.
The only investigation I did prior to the show was to steal a look at Sleep No More’s barebones website where they give a “history” of the hotel:
Completed in 1939, the McKittrick Hotel was intended to be New York City’s finest and most decadent luxury hotel of its time. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public. Until now…
Seventy-two years later, EMURSIVE has brought the Grande Dame back to life. Collaborating with London’s award-winning PUNCHDRUNK, the legendary space is reinvented with SLEEP NO MORE, presenting Shakespeare’s classic Scottish tragedy through the lens of suspenseful film noir. Audiences move freely through a transporting world at their own pace, choosing their own path through the story, immersed in the most unique theatrical experience in the history of New York.
Other than peeking at the website, I wanted to be completely in the dark when I got to the performance, and lo and behold, it was literally pitch black as I entered the abandoned warehouse on West 27th Street. The experience began at the receptionist area where my boyfriend and I were handed two playing cards, him the ten of spades, and I the jack of diamonds.
We were ushered to a cocktail lounge area adorned with similar décor to The Shining, where a dapper mustached and tuxedoed man suavely manned the stage, crooning phrases such as, “those of you holding a 6 card, your time has come. Quickly finish your cocktails or abandon them as I escort you to the corner of the room. You will be separated from your loved ones; this is an experience to be had alone. Tell them you can rendezvous back here at the second floor lounge once you’ve finished.”
When our numbers were called we were herded into a small 10’x10’ room with approximately 20 other people. An extremely aristocratic, sensual woman half instructed, half seduced the room into putting on white masks that others have called, “a Venetian carnival-style mask.” To me it seemed to be a hybrid of the Jason hockey mask from Friday The 13th, the Jabbawockee mask from MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, with a duckbill added from the popular 90’s cartoon, Ducktales. The vixen-woman firmly instructed us to keep the masks on at all times, and to refrain from talking on or using our cell phones at any time.
The crowd then entered what seemed like an impossibly smaller room. Once we were sardined, feeling sufficiently awkward for touching two or more strangers at once, the room began to climb upwards. It was an elevator. The man operating the ascending room dispersed small groups of people at random floors, simply saying something to the effect of, “good fortune follows the bold.” My boyfriend and I first walked onto, from what I could collect, the fourth floor.
The scene that appeared behind the elevator doors was an old fashioned foyer, seating area and bedrooms. The first room I entered was that of a child’s with a single empty crib in the middle. Hanging from the ceiling was an intricate web of fifty or more headless baby dolls strung throughout the room. Fun.
As I was exiting the room, I caught a glimpse of my first character, a pregnant woman in a floral dress with a suitcase. She was rushing into a bedroom. I was the first in the room, but shortly after a handful of my fellow white masks joined me. We watched as the woman emptied her suitcase and ran into the seating area where she rolled around on the couch looking rather agonized. After a few minutes I grew restless and journeyed on.
From here on out the rooms and floors became foggy and intertwined, seeing as I ran up and down innumerable stair cases following various characters through a myriad of rooms and corridors.
At some point I mysteriously found myself outside, or rather, what was meant to be an outdoor wooded area. I was surprised to feel a cool breeze circulating around the room, to hear the soft sound of crickets and to smell crisp fresh air momentarily fooling me into believing I was actually outside. I rushed through the trees with a few other masked people as we followed a nurse to a small wooden hut in the corner of the room. She grabbed an audience member and entered the hut for a few minutes, leaving the rest of us straining our eyes as we attempted to peer through the cracks, not wanting to miss a moment. After a few minutes she ran out of the hut and joined another nurse in the wooded area where she hysterically scrawled a chalk message on a wooden pillar.
Next I ventured into an infirmary and hospital area with rows of unattended white cots and menacing looking medical tools. Each bed had a cross above it. I then stumbled upon a small prayer room with religious statues and crucifixes. A small table held a glass bowl that contained holy communion wafers. I’ve never been a religious person but I’ve always been a curious person, so I took a piece and snuck it in my mouth. Not exactly sure if I was supposed to do that, but regardless, it tasted like cardboard.
I soon found myself in a scene from Clue as I chased characters and groups of masked people around various floors of the hotel, trying to connect plotlines and rogue characters to one another. The highlight of my evening took place in a large room with a single bath tub placed in the middle. Two lovers and/or mortal enemies were intermittently holding each other in a passionate embrace as they tumbled atop furniture making love, then violently began strangling and tossing one another across the room.
The woman took the top of her lingerie off, completely exposing herself. I was shoved off into a corner of the room watching from afar as she inexplicably began moving closer to me. I tried extremely hard to focus my gaze on her face like that of a gentleman, rather than a befuddled frat boy. She slowly moved nearer to me and was literally close enough to kiss me. She leaned forward and just as her lips were about to graze mine, she reached up and grabbed a dress hanging on a peg just above my head. As she removed the garment, her nipple slightly caressed my shoulder, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘boob graze.’ I’ve never had a lesbian experience, unless you count the time I kissed my friend Hannah at a Chinese restaurant because a fortune cookie had told me to kiss the person nearest to me. Other than that, I don’t fancy myself bi-curious, but I must admit, I was quite excited at the prospect of kissing a strange woman.
Other highlights included women with loosely fitting dresses that allowed their girl parts to flail and free flow as they danced/rolled atop bars and pool tables, as well as a few bar fights and other various forms of fighting and love-making (as real as possible without actual penetration, mind you).
The production culminated in the dark basement where the characters gathered in the ballroom. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on because I happened to be standing next to my new lesbian lover who was exposing an alluring amount of side boob at face level. I momentarily tore my eyes away and noticed that the room was filled with upwards of a hundred or so of my fellow white masked comrades that were transfixed on the spectacle before their eyes. I will not reveal what that spectacle was because I don’t want to ruin the ending, but I assure you, it was spectacular.
As my boyfriend and I exited the warehouse we strolled down a deserted side street, sharing our individual experiences, attempting to piece together what we had just witnessed. Three things we were sure of:
- it was unlike anything we had ever encountered before;
- it was an amazing orgasm of the senses, combining amazing scenery, thrilling sounds and various temperatures ranging from that of a cool evening, to a sticky claustrophobic room to create an unforgettable experience; and
- even though it was thrilling, and a bit creepy, we didn’t feel it warranted the title “Sleep No More.” It definitely wasn’t something we would lose sleep over.
Cut to six hours later. It is 3 AM. I jolt awake in bed from a strange dream where I am trapped in a hospital corridor, running through various operating rooms trying to escape something I can’t quite define. I look over and see that my boyfriend is wide awake reading a book, saying it was impossible for him to sleep. His thoughts were filled with the McKittrick hotel, not to mention, I was talking in my sleep.
Even though you’ve wasted the past five minutes of your life retracing my weirder than usual Monday night, don’t let it deter you from spending a thrilling 3 hours at the McKittrick hotel as you create a unique “choose your own destiny” experience running through corridors, discovering hidden rooms and stalking blood soaked characters through the spectacular, crumbling scenery. Perhaps you will be luckier than I, and happen to stumble upon the hot witch orgy rave party that I somehow managed to miss, despite making it my top priority. Rather than having visions of creepy hospital imagery plaguing your dreams at night when you inevitably attempt sleep, hopefully instead, it will be those of supple nipples grazing your arm and distraught young nurses seeking solace in your warm embrace.