Monday, May 30, 2011

SLEEP NO MORE • The McKittrick Hotel

I'm not really sure where to even start with this one.

SLEEP NO MORE is currently being presented in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea by Punchdrunk, a British theatre company.  Their audiences don't sit and watch -- they roam.  Punchdrunk deals in the realm of site specific productions, and after running this show abroad, they've brought their latest to the Big Apple.  Even their website is cool.

Punchdrunk has claimed a couple of downtown warehouses and transformed them into a truly immersive theatre going experience.  This presentation combines the story of MACBETH, a little Alfred Hitchcock thrown in, and as far as I can tell (by googling the names from the program), the Paisley witches, supposed Scotland witches tried in Paisley, Renfrewshire, in 1697.  Who knows what else might have been in there that I missed.
What follows is bound to contain spoilers galore, but everyone's experience with this show is bound to be different.

As you enter The McKittrick Hotel everything goes pitch black.  You eventually check your bags, receive a special playing card, and are ushered into this bar area where you can hang for a few minutes and have a drink.  Once the Master of Ceremonies calls your card number, you're escorted into an elevator, but not before you receive a mask that you're instructed to put on and keep on through the entire experience.  And no talking.  The mask really adds to the feeling of walking through someone else's head trip.  Once you're let off of the elevator, it's just kind of like, "Okay.  GO!"  However, you are advised that "Fortune favors the bold."  Oooo…

Sweet Shop Photo credit- Sara Krulwich-The New York Times
I lost count of how many rooms I visited, but I'd guess there were easily over 40.  You are basically left free to wander around in these impeccably decorated spaces.  There's a witches apothecary, a ballroom, a banquet room, a hospital room, bedrooms, writing rooms, living rooms, a forest and a cemetery.  And then some.  They are all dimly lit and quite creepy.  There are at least 5 floors to the place, and at least one of them is set up like a "main street".  You explore, examine objects, rifle through suitcases, look through books (a lot of old yellow paged psychology books abound) and try to catch characters in action.  And if you stumble across the Sweet Shop on the "street level", help yourself to some candy!

Sophie Bortolussi as Lady Macbeth and Nicholas Bruder as Macbeth.
In the masks are audience members.
Photo credit- Sara Krulwich-The New York Times 
Once you find a character, you can choose to follow their track, or wander off to another area.  One of the scenes I caught was between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.  I assume this because they were in a bathtub and Lady Macbeth was washing blood from Macbeth.  And yes, there is male and female nudity.  The dialogue between the characters is pretty sparse, but if you pick out any of the lines, it's clear there's some Shakespeare going on.  I followed Lady Macbeth around for awhile and watched her interact with many of the characters as well as a young woman writing a letter and then packing a suitcase.  Then there was a woman (One of the Scotland witches maybe?) mixing a potion that she later gives to Lady Macduff in the ballroom where all of the characters are dancing together.  Whaaaaat?  At one point as I was walking around, one of the witches bumped me and brushed past so I anxiously followed her up a couple flights of stairs to be derailed by another character who led me back down a few flights through a closed doorway revealing a brilliantly lit chapel styled stained glass display, and then down another flight of stairs to the small quarters of a tomb where the body of a man was laid out on a platform with a backlit cross at the back of the room.  He becomes reanimated, and the female character (honestly not sure who), interacted with this man in a wordless intriguing back-and-forth.  SERIOUSLY?!

Photo credit: Sara Krulwich-The New York Times
The whole thing seems to be intricately staged to an audio track that I'm guessing is about an hour long.  Everything is timed.  During one scene that involved Macduff and a pregnant Lady Macduff struggling, their movements were mesmerizing.  They were obviously carefully choreographed, but dreamlike -- in perfect unison with the music that was playing, and careful to accommodate the onlookers.  The music was sometimes like a 1930's jazz type feel, sometimes a little electronica, and sometimes a spooky droning, and according to what I've read, some of it was lifted from Hitchcock films.  When I explored the "outside" area of the cemetery, the temperature got cooler and the music faded, replaced with the sounds of crickets and thunder.

If you choose to stick with one of the various characters, you eventually wind up in the banquet hall.  Here, the characters assemble for what is an obvious scene from MACBETH.  The speed of their movements alternates between normal and slow motion, again, in perfect time with the music, and then we see the bloodied ghost of Banquo.  Here, all of the action goes slo-mo.  I'm telling you, it's the most awesome thing I've ever seen.  This feeling of being exhausted because you've been chasing characters up and down stairs, wearing the mask, and not knowing what will be around the next corner -- GENIUS!

Photo credit: Alick Crossley
That was my experience, for the most part.  Everyone walks away with something different.  This show hasn't been broadly advertised -- it's getting business through word of mouth, and has quietly extended through September.  The very nature of it makes you want to go back and see it again.  Truly unique.  If you're going to be in NYC before September (unless they extend again) bring some comfortable shoes and see this.  For real.


Written by Emursive
Directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle
The McKittrick Hotel, 530 West 27th St. New York, NY
through September 5 | tickets: $75 - $85
Performance Monday to Saturday; Entry times at 7pm, 7:15pm, 7:30pm, 7:45pm, 8pm, 11:00pm. 11:15pm, 11:30pm, 11:45pm & 11:59pm

Photo credit: Alick Crossley
Phil Atkins (Duncan), Kelly Bartnik (Catherine Campbell), Sophie Bortolussi (Lady Macbeth), Nicholas Bruder (Macbeth), Ching-I Chang (Sexy Witch), Hope T. Davis (Bald Witch),John Sorensen-Jolink (Macduff), Stephanie Eaton (Nurse Shaw), Gabriel Forestieri (J. Fulton), Jeffery Lyon (Banquo), Careena Melia (Hecate), Jordan Morley (Boy Witch), Matthew Oaks (Porter), Rob Najarian (Malcolm), Alli Ross (Lady Macduff), Paul Singh (Speakeasy Barman), Tori Sparks (Agnes Naismith) and Lucy York (Matron).

Design by Felix Barrett, Livi Vaughan and Beatrice Minns; choreography by Ms. Doyle; sound desisgn by Stephen Dobbie; lighting design by Mr. Barrett and Euan Maybank; costume design by David Israel Reynoso; production manager, Bradley Thompson.

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