Since March, Punchdrunk theater company's immersive Shakespeare adaptation Sleep No More has converted an entire Manhattan loft building into a 100-room abandoned hotel from the 1940s.
During this almost three-hour performance, audience members must wander through six floors of bugfuck creepiness wearing Venetian masks and following dancers who wordlessly reenact scenes from Macbeth, which star bellhops, bartenders, guys, dolls, and copious amounts of interpretative dance. It's akin to the old Nintendo game Shadowgate, but with the occasional bloody penis.
Your correspondent only recently caught Sleep No More last week, months after all my dramaturgically hip friends (and harangued Hollywood types looking for a masquerade) attended the show. I'm not sure my reticence stemmed from, but I'm pretty sure someone I knew dubbed Sleep No More "1940s Macbeth" — a description which does the show zero justice — and my mind immediately turned to Orson Welles, who immediately triggers visions of cyborg planetoids. Wait, where was I?
Oh right, Sleep No More. It's mind-blowing. Should you go, don't bother trying to figure out the plot by trailing a single actor (there's a $20 script bible for sale at the end if you're hell-bent on deciphering the actors' handsome flailings). Instead, wander around the hotel's floors and investigate its many nooks and crannies. I'm not sure what the security camera situation is in Sleep No More, but I wouldn't be surprised if amorous exhibitionists have conducted their own Lambada-like danse macabre in the hotel's more cloistered recesses.
But yes, the audience can touch almost everything and are free to rifle through the building's many desks and shelves. Do be forewarned that vigilant, skull-masked guardians will corral any rowdies to the curb. Among the many odd sights you may encounter are...
- An indoor graveyard and hedge labyrinth
- A hidden room full of Satanic arcana
- A basement maze of Christmas trees
- An orgy scene, complete with actors' blood-smeared members and exposed breasts
- A candy shop filled with fifty or so bottles of edible confections (anachronistic Twizzlers!)
- A ton of beds (toward the end of the show, I began crawling into them with no repercussions)
- A lounge with a live jazz band and absinthe punch (this may have had something to do with the bed shenanigans)
- Several unlockable "scenarios" that you can access if you're in the right place at the right time.
This latter attribute makes Sleep No More feel like an old-school role-playing game...not unlike Night Trap! At unspecified times, the actors may single out specific audience members for some one-on-one weirdness. For example, one of my pals was ambushed by a deranged nurse in the hedge maze; she led him into a cabin and spoon-fed him tea while muttering nursery rhymes about dead little boys. Another fellow I knew was cornered by a cryptically yammering fortune teller (or something) for 10 minutes.
Despite the show's $75 ticket price, these bizarre, unsettling chance encounters give Sleep No More "replay value" — no two performances are exactly the same, and you never know when a blood-soaked bellhop may ensnare you with an unnerving monologue.
Sleep No More is playing until January 2012 in Manhattan. If you do go, sign up for the earliest show possible — audience entrance times are staggered in 15-minute intervals for the first hour, but all tickets are the same price. Also, don't wear glasses (the mandatory masks will smush your nose), equip yourself with comfortable shoes, and brace yourself for the creepiest haunted hotel this side of The Shining.
ADDENDUM: Oh fuck me, Sleep No More is the plot of Gossip Girl tomorrow. It's still insanely recommended, but I am the king of the fogeys.