Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Checking into the McKitterick

Last night, I went to see Sleep No More at the McKitterick Hotel in far west Chelsea. The McKitterick is actually a warehouse transformed into a six-story labyrinth designed to look like 1920s hotel. It is the setting of the play, which is a loose retelling of Macbeth. Rather than sitting in the audience, you experience the play by wandering throughout the seemingly endless rooms each brimming with details--things to examine and drawers to rummage through. Periodically you may encounter some of the actors. You can choose to follow certain characters or just wander on your own.

When you first arrive at the theater/hotel/warehouse you are welcomed through to the front desk to check in, where they hand you a playing card. Afterwards you head immediately into a dark maze that involves feeling along the walls to find your way. This experience is handsomely rewarded when you enter the hotel bar--a 1920s lounge populated by unique characters. It very much reminded me of the bar and party scenes in The Shining. Actually, a lot of this experience reminded me of The Shining. Aside from being much darker and having more prudent carpeting choices, there were definitely elements of the Overlook in the McKitterick.

At the bar, my boyfriend and I realized we had different playing cards and also that the number on the cards was what dictated when you were allowed entrance into the rest of the hotel. We assumed it was an oversight, and I went ahead and snuck in with his group. They gave us masks that all audience members had to wear to keep themselves apart from the actors. Naturally they made them as creepy and reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut as possible:

That's right--we were allowed to keep the masks! Doesn't it instantly up the creepy factor of my otherwise non-descript apartment?

It soon became apparent that trying to split people off from the groups they came with was not an oversight but an intention. I think they wanted to encourage people to explore the hotel alone. The 20 of us in our card group were piled into an elevator and the elevator operator went up a floor and told everyone to get out. The guy closest to the door followed the instruction and right after he got out, the elevator operator closed the door and kept going. He dropped groups of people off at all different floors.

As I exited the elevator and I and the other masked people dispersed, it was very dark and took me a minute to get my bearings. At first it seemed like a haunted house, full of masked silent ghouls (like any theater audience, silence was enforced). There were graveyards and hallways and rooms each with their own macabre details. One floor was a sanatarium with padded rooms and, for some reason, lots of taxadermied birds everywhere. My first encounter with actors was when Lady Macbeth (one of the few characters I was really able to identify) came in, took all her clothes off and took a bath. There was certainly a very voyeuristic quality to Sleep No More as the audience can get very close to the characters and scenes. At some points the actors even touch you to push you out of their way. The scene where Lady Macbeth seduces Lord Macbeth into the murder plot took on a totally different feel when several score of masked figures stood over the pair silently in judgement. Another element of the play was that the audience could look for clues to solve the mystery by reading letters or appointment books we found or by opening chests or looking in drawers.

The actors rarely spoke and when they did it was usually not intelligble. Instead the play was presented more as a Lynchian dumb show with the action communicated through dance. The actors were clearly very talented modern dancers. There was also a fascinating soundtrack that filled the halls of the hotel and grew to crescendos when an important event was about to happen. I'll be honest and say that I didn't really follow the play that much. I'm pretty familiar with Macbeth (having both read it and seen it preformed) and still had no idea what was happening in most of the scenes I came across. The only people I recognized were Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and (I think) the three witches, who were in this case two women and a man. I also gave up on looking for clues at some point and just enjoyed poking around for its own sake.

In the end, I feel like Sleep No More is less of a play and more of a theater experience. It is also a very fascinating and enjoyable one--different from any other play I have seen. The McKitterick closes its doors in November, so go see it while you can.


  1. I am so glad you went to experience this! I had read about it in the Times and hoped you would get there. I am reminded if the Houston Grand Opera's production of MacBeth (by Verdi????) which featured an army of women in red vinyl outfits (don't remember their role) and Birnham Wood coming to Dunsinane via a TV screen. This certainly is stranger still

  2. I could see the plot of Macbeth being perfect for an opera. And I think you're right--definitely Verdi.

    There were no women in red vinyl outfits, but there were definitely some weird elements to this production. My favorite part was the male witch (I think that's who this was) who was a lounge singer crooning Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" while looking super creepy. The whole thing was very surreal.

  3. You are a brave woman to go to something like this. I think I would have freaked out and started screaming "Someone SAY something!!" or something ridiculous like that. :) It sounds suuuuper cool though. Glad you went!