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Sleep No More

This environmental theater piece inspired by Macbeth is simply astonishing.

By New York City
Luke Murphy and Careena Melia in Sleep No More (© Thom Kaine)
Luke Murphy and Careena Melia in Sleep No More
(© Thom Kaine)
Bring an open mind, a healthy curiosity, and perhaps a decent working knowledge of Shakespeare's Macbeth, and you will have a fascinating time at Sleep No More, the simply astonishing environmental theater piece now playing in Chelsea.

The show, from U.K.'s Punchdrunk and directed by Felix Barrett, Livi Vaughan and Beatrice Minns, takes attendees into the heart of the McKittrick Hotel, a five-story labyrinth of rooms and abstracted spaces that have been inspired by the events in the Bard's Scottish play.

After guests have secured their tickets (playing cards which determine the order that they are ushered into the event), they enjoy drinks in a lush bar area where 1930s hits waft through the sound system When it's time to enter the show, white plastic commedia dell'arte masks are donned and the adventure begins after people are dropped off -- either singly or in a small group -- on one of the floors.

From this moment, one's on one's own to start exploring the space. When one comes across a performer, it's possible to follow him or her to see what they're up to next. Or one can simply choose to wander through the spaces, allowing its creepiness (provided in large part by Stephen Dobbie's consistently shifting and often disturbing soundscape and director Barrett and Euan Maybank's haunting lighting design) to seep in and reveling in the exquisite details that can be found at every turn.

Among the many fine examples of the sorts of props that attendees can examine are the papers in a file on a doctor's desk in the sanitarium section of the place -- you'll find all of his notes on Lady Macbeth's mental condition. Should you find yourself in the hotel lobby, notice the little model trees sitting on a coffee table, it's a grand homage to the Burnham Wood prophecy of Shakespeare's play, particularly if you take time to move them around yourself.

The tactile nature of the show can extend well beyond the set pieces in the rooms and spaces. Descending a set of stairs, one performer rushed by me and then, when my hand went to the banister that he had unsteadily clutched and discovered it wet from the "blood" that had soaked his evening clothes. Also, while rummaging through a trunk in one of the guest rooms, another performer gently tapped my shoulder before diving in to rearrange its contents.

As for the performances -- which are offered in silence and have been choreographed by Maxine Doyle -- they range from recreating such infamous moments from Macbeth as the banquet scene in which Macbeth imagines that the ghost of Banquo appears at the table to devised ones, tangentially related to the play. In this latter category is one particularly riveting scene involving one of the younger men intensely developing photos of an older man with multiple stab wounds, clearly an investigation of the murder of King Duncan.

Such moments -- some more opaque than others -- thrillingly abound. And given that it's impossible to see everything in one two-hour session, chances are theatergoers will find themselves wanting to return to the McKittrick time and again to dive into this deliciously eerie experience.


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