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Sleep No More…a milestone reached

Chances are most thought it would never get this far. There are no television commercials for it. And good luck locating an ad in the New Yorker or the Times. It was originally slated to run for a scant few weeks in early 2011. It started “previewing” in March of that year, officially opened on April 13th, and was scheduled to close in mid-May. Then it was extended. And then it was extended again. And then again. Sure, there were some articles about the “show” in the big newspapers, periodicals and on the theater websites. But “Sleep No More” was rapidly becoming a word-of-mouth phenomenon. I experienced it in June of last year and sent a blast e-mail to a bunch of friends describing my wild ride(at least two of those eventually made the trip as well). That e-mail was one of the three that would become the introductory launch of this blog. “Sleep No More” won a 2011 Drama Desk Award for “Unique Theatrical Experience” and Obie Awards for design and choreography. Reviews were uniformly rapturous. The rich and famous were soon attending(Ron Howard, Lea Michele, Anderson Cooper, Pink, Alan Cumming, Neil Patrick Harris). Of course, once they donned their white-beaked masks…they looked the same as you and me. In November, the television drama series “Gossip Girl” was given full access to the site-specific event and centered an entire episode around it. And as of today, “Sleep No More” has been open for a full year. No end in sight either—its latest extension goes thru June.         Just what the heck is this weird hybrid of Shakespeare and Hitchcock? As I described in that original blast e-mail and on this blog’s “About” page, it’s a mind-blowing once-in-a-lifetime experience(although many are going back again-and-again). The early descriptions of the event described a collision of “Macbeth” and “Rebecca”. But there is almost no dialogue—the works are interpreted mostly through dance and movement. It’s non-linear and many set-ups are repeated a couple of times over the course of three hours…and it’s entirely possible that no two people in the “audience” will see the same show. I prepared for this voyage extensively after confirming my reservation. I watched Roman Polanski’s 1971 film version of “Macbeth” for the very first time and re-watched Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood”(perhaps the greatest version of the Scottish play ever committed to celluloid). I read three different versions of the play itself: 1)the original text including the explanatory notes, 2)a compressed paragraph-style offering that I purchased in London in 1995(it similarly breaks down all of the Bard’s works), and 3)a children’s short story overview that has been part of my collection since I was a youngster. I also watched Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”(winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940). Was I going in prepared? You bet. Did my studies make “Sleep No More” easily decipherable? No freaking way! But I was glad to have done the research…the experience was that much richer. Plus, I had difficulty figuring out who was who with all the training I embarked upon…I couldn’t imagine it without. Your journey takes you on six different floors and into over a hundred rooms while attendees follow actors up and down stairs and into hallways and secret hiding spots. This Shakespeare works your mind and body. And don’t remove that mask! It is forbidden(I watched a cast member reach over and yank it back down over the face of a woman who casually rested hers on the top of her head). Besides…how else to easily distinguish the cast from the audience? Cooperate for crying out loud…this is up to three hours of artistic bliss.               So, Happy Anniversary “Sleep No More”. I would love to come again, but I am not sure if I will ever get the opportunity to (so many plays, so little time). I love how Punchdrunk(the London-based theatrical company that began this adventure)has kept the production fresh with “special event” performances on holidays like Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. “Sleep No More” after a 2003 England run and a 2009 Boston incarnation(some photos of which can be viewed above), has now firmly etched itself into the fabric of Manhattan too. I can’t even fathom how a person who calls themselves a theatre lover would not want to visit this at least one time. And rumours persist that Punchdrunk will try to mount their Edgar Allen Poe “Masque of the Red Death” immersive production in the Big Apple in the near future. My mouth waters. So, as I shouted in my blast e-mail almost ten months ago…GET THEE TO CHELSEA!!! You’ll never forget it or regret it.          This show rates a 9*      *(because I left “Sleep No More” feeling like I had missed some things, I held back from giving it a perfect score. As noted previously, you can’t possible see everything—and a scattered selection of people have even reported a miserable experience at this production. But they are few and far between. “Sleep No More” was maybe the most bewitching, erotic, exciting theatrical experience of my life. And if I saw it multiple times, I imagine the  occurrence would only continue to enhance. It’s a happening, man. So, most of you can ignore that 9…the overall impact of this baby is a perfect 10)ML

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One comment on “Sleep No More…a milestone reached

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