Sleep No More: McKittrick Hotel 11 April 2011

Sleep No More is an immersive theater experience where the masked audience follows around as many of the actors as possible as they run around an abandoned hotel mostly miming parts of Macbeth and Rebecca while the audience opens drawers and doors to inspect the contents within. If you read rtb’s review and that didn’t convince you to buy a ticket, then I’ll try my best to talk you into doing so.

Since rtb had been to see it with mollyT (who has friends in the play), I had some idea of what to expect. But nothing could really prepare me for the ride I was about to take. The entrance into the hotel is dark – not dimly lit – dark. If I didn’t have rtb and violaleeblue with me I would have been in tears right there. I couldn’t see anything and just had my arms in front of me and along the wall as I felt my way through the maze and into the Manderley. This is the 1930s club inside the hotel. It is also the name of the country estate in Rebecca. Between the dark entry and the club you become completely disoriented and really feel like you’ve gone back in time. The maître d’ is very helpful and starts us on our journey. We were given a playing card and that’s what they use to divide the audience into groups. rtb, violaleeblue, and I were in the first group to enter the hotel elevator. We knew the best way to experience the play would be to split up so that we could compare notes at the end (I saw a few couples walking around holding hands and I thought it was such a waste of a unique experience). Before entering the elevator we take a mask – it’s white with very big holes for the eyes to make it easy to see. The bottom half pulls out like a long chin so that your nose and mouth are not covered and it is very easy to breathe. Everyone looked really cool in the masks – except for the one hipster who insisted on keeping his fedora on.

At the first stop the elevator operator tells everyone to get off and one person does and he shuts the doors. At each floor more people get off. He goes up and down letting more of us off the elevator. When I got off I saw a room to my left and could see some white masked audience members inside. Before I could enter, a pregnant woman ran out of the room – she was wearing an overcoat and carrying a suitcase. I immediately took off after her as did one other guy. The rest of the audience seemed stunned. At the beginning several people just seemed to watch us run after her and didn’t know what was happening. It took awhile before we gathered a group. She stopped at a candy store and ate one piece from several jars. She ran upstairs into the hotel lobby. She rang for the clerk. I know that Rebecca is never seen in the movie or book but she was supposed to be pregnant (but not really) so I was guessing that’s who she was but further reading on the internet says that she was Lady Macduff. A Mrs. Danvers character came in (she is not identified as such in the program), along with the audience members following her, trying to give the pregnant woman milk. The desk clerk takes the glass. There’s an elaborate dance.

There’s a lot of acrobatic dancing. A later scene has Mrs. Danvers and the pregnant woman in the restaurant off the lobby dancing and the pregnant woman is literally dancing on the wall. Later there are leaps from the mezzanine above the ballroom and climbing onto walls in total blackness – why there haven’t been any Spiderman injuries yet, I have no idea.

When the pregnant woman was forced to lap the milk from a dish, I’d decided I’d had enough of this character. I walked upstairs and started to wander around. And I realized I felt more relaxed. I like knowing the layout of a place before I explore or I’m taken anywhere. So I took the opportunity to explore the entire hotel. Occasionally I’d run across an actor and I’d watch for a bit, and then I’d wander off again to check out other floors. There was an insane asylum – made scarier by the fact that no action was taking place when I was there so I was alone as I looked at the beds, the surgical instruments, the padded cell, and the row of bathtubs. I tried to read the doctor’s notes about the patients but without my glasses that was impossible.

There was a grand hallway that leads into a bedroom with a crazy woman behind some glass. Later I watched her bathe Macbeth and lie in bed with him and do the “out damn spot” scene in a bathtub full of bloody water. There were the ruins of a church. There was a cemetery filled with children’s graves. The fence and woods leading to the country estate. A speakeasy filled with boxes and a pool table. Lots of stuffed birds everywhere. And a lot of Catholic imagery – statues of the Virgin Mary, crosses, altars, and chapels in several of the rooms. There are a few scenes that reference the end of the New Testament. Detective rooms with one room for interrogation with a chair and a light. I opened one door, walked into a room and the door slammed behind me. Inside was an empty open coffin and an office. I started thinking what a great CSI or Law & Order episode this would make – I was alone, if I screamed no one would think it was extraordinary, and it would be hours before my body was found. Now that I had scared myself silly, I ran out of the room. There were a lot of dark hallways, which were scary only in that I was alone (since I wasn’t following an actor) and anyone could have followed me. There were plenty of people in black masks around to help you – I saw one of them helping a woman back down to the bar where you could go if the experience got to be too much for you.

Eventually I found myself in the ballroom just when the dancing scene was taking place. All the actors were dancing. Slowly they separated and I started following different actors around. I would have stuck to one but they’re fast! Suddenly the actor would run out of a room and I’d haul ass after him/her and lose the actor on the stairway or in the hallway when we’d get mixed in with another group following another actor. It was easy to find where some action was taking place because the music would swell and the lights would come up in that room. At one point we were all lead downstairs again for the banquet scene. At the end of that scene I was following Mrs. Danvers and came upon her getting the glass of milk ready for the pregnant woman in the hotel lobby. I realized that the scenes repeated – the play runs for three hours and you get mostly the same play three times (there are some changes with the improv and audience interaction and a more dramatic ending for the final hour). Occasionally an actor will speak to you and bring you into an empty room. The most I got was one of the women stroking my hair.

The witches have two roles – that of the Macbeth witches and that of the Paisley (or Bargarran) witches. At one point I accidentally stumbled on the orgy – probably one of the most exciting and fun scenes. There’s a strobe light in the room so I hesitated but one of the black masked people pushed me in. It’s an orgy – with animal and human sacrifice and naked dancing. It’s so weird to be so close to the action but anonymous and not part of it.

What the play is is fun. I loved running after the actors. I loved running up and down the stairs. I thought three hours would be too much but it flew by. I decided very early on that I wasn’t going to be concerned with the storyline. I took each scene as it came to me and took it for what it was. It was a hotel and each hotel has as many stories as it does rooms.

Here are some photos from the Scouting New York blog.

By Carene Lydia Lopez