Stark and I were running on only a few hours of sleep after our red eye to NYC. Still, we survived a full day of walking and exploring with enough leftover adventurism to agree to tickets to an interactive theatrical experience called Sleep No More.
So four of us went to dinner – Ziv, Ali, Stark, and I. We had dinner at a French restaurant that a friend of Ziv’s owns. The dinner started with a tasting platter of five various duck livers. Although they were very appetizing, my memories of anything liver from growing up was keeping me from enjoying more than a taste of each delicatessen. However, the mussels were fantastic and I was excited to have a salad. Traveling seems to prove a huge lack in vegetables so it is my new goal to jump on any salad available. We also had a lavender braised lamb and tile fish. Everything was wonderful but the faster we ate due to time, the more nervous I was about the upcoming show.
I had heard only a few minor things that made Sleep No More sound like a mix between a haunted mansion experience and Blade II. Although the play was said to be based on MacBeth and elements of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, after hearing about a blood bath inspired techno scene, I was sure someone forgot to mention the inspiration from Blade II.
Our tickets were for 11:30. We lined up with only a hundred people or so outside of what was made to me a hotel. They let us in after several minutes of waiting- IDs required and no physical tickets.
Everyone is voluntarily silent, mostly, as they move through a completely black hallway towards the red lights of the concierge. First stopping at coat check, tickets were then taken digitally by the red-lit concierge desk that traded our proof of payment for one playing card each. Just by chance Stark was a King and I was a Queen. We had no idea what it meant.
From there everyone is taken to a dark, still red lit bar area set with a 20’s theme complete with full band and an amazing singer. Shots of absinth go all around like little, semi-glowing green drinks but there are no drinks allowed “on set” and the show began quickly. At least, for is it did. Ziv had already been once and he insisted we get in line first.
From here it goes a bit like the Tower or Terror at Disney. A blunt, British fellow directs you to put your drinks down, gather around and be quiet with a creepy voice and slow speaking, shouting at random before falling to a whisper. He hands out Van Gogh inspired masks with no mouths to people he chooses as obedient followers. Then he shoves us quickly into a smaller room, darker. He does it with a sense of urgency, like he’s trying to hide us all from impending evil. From there an even creepier girl gives sullen, deep voiced directions in the same slow tone with sharply accented tones. She’s very white with somewhat smeared mascara and a low neck dress. She slams her hands on a door that opens very quickly where she then hands us off to a bell boy.
We are all told to wear our masks the entire time. Actors in the play have no masks and silent, guides block off certain areas while wearing black masks.
It seems like we stop on the third floor but I can’t be sure because the bell boy just told us we are not allowed to speak the entire time and even moreso, not allowed to hold hands. Stark and I reluctantly let go of each other as the elevator door shot open again.
A few people stepped out. Among them, Ziv and Ali. I followed close behind. Creeped out by the silence and the haunted house feel of the first room, I immediately paused. In front of me was a long hallway with many doors wide open to dark rooms. The other option was a completely abandoned medical unit with a dozen cots, random clothing, and scratches on the wall.
Ziv immediately directed Ali down the dark hallway and out of sight. Curious, I remained paused and turned quickly to see where Stark wanted to go. And he was gone…
I stood frozen in the middle of the black hallway, waiting. After a few moments a girl who appeared completely lost came stumbling out of nowhere. As she passed by, I walked back to the elevator doors. No one. I saw another dark doorway in the opposite direction that everyone naturally went from the elevator and I peered in, thinking he may have been forced in another direction. There was no one.
In the background, deep toned music played a slow version that seemed like Twilight Zone but it was more familiar to certain scenes in Vertigo. More audibly was the sound of wind and a very cold breeze coming from a room with no doorways, only glimpses through windows. The room was a maze made out of forest branches. I decided Stark must’ve been forced to get off on a different floor and somehow that obvious realization made me want to cry. Something about having only your eyes exposed through the white mask makes you that much more aware of what your eyes might look like in that moment. Mine were filled with terror as I took off in a near run down the black hallway, nearly running into what seemed to be a dead end before it turned sharply to the right into more red area. There was no one in sight as I moved through random rooms filled with old books, torture chambers and 20s era laundry rooms. Finally, I came upon Ziv and waved frantically, unable to speak. He didn’t seem to recognize me despite my waving. I was wearing all black, with only a small scarf to identify who I was. I tries to motion to Ali that I needed to follow them and she just waved back as they disappeared. At least at this point there were more people, circling the area and concentrating on the set design as if it might tell them something.
The only clue I took from my surroundings was to follow the majority of the people to a stairwell. I chose to walk down, in the direction I thought Ziv had went. As I turned the first corner of the stairwell I saw someone standing in the corner, letting everyone pass. My heart skipped and sank instantly. I thought it was Stark but this person was also in all black. I thought he was still in his shorts.
As I came to his level, I recognized the black jeans. He reached his hand through the crowd and grabbed mine saying out loud, “Caz?!?” The sound of his voice was shocking in the hurried silence of everyone around us so all I could do was nod furiously and know how bright my eyes must look through the large holes of the mask. I was so relieved to know he was ok and that there would be no experience without him, that we would work out this maze together.
It was long from that point that we came across the first character. From then on we took the advice of finding one of the witches and following them through the entire story. At this point the story seemed to be based on a Choose Your Own Adventure book version of MacBeth. The play is presented in complete silence through acting and somewhat interpretative dance.
I think the first character we came across was most obviously Lady MacBeth. We came into the obvious scene of “Out damn spot out!” However, I must say despite being somewhat of a MacBeth expert, this is the only Shakespeare part that made any sense to me. As we followed through each scene, I became more and more lost both through lacking elements of the storyline as well as the cat-like movement the characters had, knowing each dark corner. Dozens of people frantically attempted to follow the character, forcing those of us in the back to be redirected at random by black masks and curved walls into alternative realities.
At this point, things were coming across more like A Clockwork Orange meets Fight Club. We came upon an interpretive dance fight between MacBeth and one of the witches in one bright, white light in the middle of a smokey forest. “I am so confused,” was all I could think. With every corner and every rushing character, Stark and I became that much more lost by our blatant attempt to stay together while obeying the rules of not holding hands. In moments, I nervously held him by his back belt loops. In other moments, we’d be instantly separated by a dozen people and I’d be scanning the audience for eyes as wide as mine – someone also looking around. We managed to stay together but what we saw, I can’t explain exactly.
Walking through the woods, I thought about the scene in Vertigo where he drives the girl back to the town with the church. Walking back through the asylum, the nurse stood in a window overlooking the same forest which may have been a representation of the nun who found the girl dead in the movie Vertigo. At some moment I saw a lady in red, but only for a moment long enough to realize despite my attempt, I had not chosen every adventure and had no idea what other stories were moving throughout the place.
Several times we came upon fights that ended with someone’s playing card being stolen, which seemed to be a representation of killing someone or stealing their soul. But I couldn’t figure out who all the characters were. I thought I’d seen them all during a banquet scene but the dapper english guy was absent and there was certainly no lady in red. Still, there were four or five couples which threw me off. If these are MacBeth’s witches, why are they at his house for banquet? And if they have dual characters, what is the banquet supposed to mean?
In slow motion every person at the banquet table went from banter, to fighting, to kissing each other one at a time – men and women, women and women, men and men. I was that much more confused. The play shifted to a complete tone of Eyes Wide Shut. Lady MacBeth gave a complete interpretive representation of her own inner breakdown while changing clothes and washing herself. That, made sense. Washing MacBeth’s naked butt, made sense. The random kissing and interaction of nameless characters completely through me off.
So I started ignoring the attempt to figure it out and went with the advice of sticking with the “hot witch” because it is only in that adventure that you’ll find yourself all toil and troubled in the bald bath rave scene. But, Stark and I must’ve had a misconception of what the hottest witch was because we heard the techno party going down, ran to find stairs, found them, and then we were lost in the forest and stuck behind walls. We missed it.
I am sad we missed it because it seemed to be the true end of the story and few successfully chose the right adventure in getting there. In fact, if you didn’t choose the right adventure-line you found yourself repeating scenes. Stark and I rushed through room after room, running into “out damn spot” scene again, the witch fight scene again and them the banquet AGAIN! So we decided we were going to leave. As we made our way back to the 1920s bar and removes our masks to feel more at home with the Gentiles, we were forced back into the maze and told it wasn’t over. We went back to the banquet scene and I realized the lighting had changed. This time, rather than running off in every direction, forcing the audience to scatter in an attempt to follow their character, the lights went orange and then turned completely off as they hung MacBeth which made absolutely no sense to me.
After that scene, we left again and found Ziv in the bar. He insisted that we had to come back since we missed the toil and trouble rave, but I think Stark and I had the full experience regardless. We witnessed the emotional aspect of being separated, unable to speak, and masked like faceless prisoners in a dark maze of sadistic interpretation. Still, we found each other and we stayed together. For nearly THREE hours we wandered through only a few stories of this makeshift hotel, seeing and repeating our experience. In the end, it was worth it enough. In the end, we were sufficiently freaked out but not in the assumed haunted house kind of way but more in the emotionally disturbed sense. I had experienced a breast to breast stand off with a witch who appeared, to me, to be very convincing in the possibility that she was possessed. She stalked me with her eyes like prey and moved quickly toward me like a shadow. All I could do was stand there with only the confidence that I was significantly taller, as if that alone was enough defense.
Overall, I think we are both confused and satisfied mostly by having done something that is genuinely behind the scenes New York. I think our parents might worry for our souls, but the experience will be memorable and laughable before long. Truly, that’s what matters most.
Never refuse an invitation…
- A locals visit to New York City. (areyouwithcaz.wordpress.com)