By now you’ve all heard of Sleep No More, the version of Macbeth that’s being staged in what the Times and Post both call an old warehouse in Chelsea. I guess that’s partially true – and the production is partially Macbeth and partially Hitchcock and partially Eyes Wide Shut. The spaces were, at one time, warehouses but they became so much more. Sleep No More takes place in the bones of former nightclub hotspots Sound Factory, Home, and Guesthouse.
The web site of the production describes the location as follows: “Completed in 1939, the McKittrick Hotel was intended to be New York City’s finest and most decadent luxury hotel of its time. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public. Until now. Seventy-two years later, Emursive has brought the Grande Dame back to life. Collaborating with London’s award-winning Punchdrunk, the legendary space is reinvented with Sleep No More, presenting Shakespeare’s classic Scottish tragedy through the lens of suspenseful film noir. Audiences move freely through a transporting world at their own pace, choosing their own path through the story, immersed in the most unique theatrical experience in the history of New York.”
As I wandered around the McKittrick, surrounded by masked men and women and accompanied by my visiting, beautiful, intelligent, hip, fun mother-in-law—who I dared not abandon despite the demands of my hosts—I began to see familiar sights. Firstly, the club where you are allowed to remove your masks, dance with hosts, and have a drink was Home, a joint I designed and built. The bar is still there as well as the padded columns and walls. The bathrooms feature the wallpapers I picked out 10 years ago. The hotel’s “front desk” is the old copper and vinyl clad bar from Guesthouse. I remember Jon B. asking me if the copper would last and there it was as beautiful as ever outlasting his run. The candles were in the candle wall.
The lower floors that constitute the “ballroom” were once the Sound Factory, which became Twilo, which became the very unspirited Spirit. Now actors fluttered about and spooky guests ran after them. I was happy to see the old clubs reused. Clubs are basically illusions. They often start out as old warehouses, garages, or other unglamorous settings. The energies of owners and operators transform them into the chicest places on earth. It’s all smoke and mirrors really. The Paradise Garage, one of the top 5 joints of all time, was indeed a garage and then it was “The” Garage and now it’s a garage (Verizon) again. The public is expected to buy into the new incarnation and ignore the un-cool past. At Sleep No More they do an incredible job of transforming the building—which also housed BED nightclub—into this haunted, daunted old hotel. Like the club operators before them they reinvigorated and redecorated the discarded space, creating an illusion that it was something else.
For me, I was bored of it all in short time. The performers held my attention for minutes, no more. Other guests ran after the actors as they were told to do and watched them pantomime horror, or anger, or fear, or lust. I liked it when those things were happening in real time back… in the day. I rummaged through brilliantly conceived rooms and touched and felt what I was expected to and was awed by the detail. I paused by old office on the 5th floor and moved on. I always ended up in the club, the old Home and was thoroughly entertained by the torch song singer. I wished it was a club every night that I could just come to and listen to her without the hoopla and hype and masks.
I think you should go and experience it for yourself. I just didn’t have the patience for it. After awhile, after I had opened a hundred draws and seen the players with their lemmings in tow, I wanted to actually slit my wrists just to give the folks in the masks something to chat about. Sleep No More is an ambitious and brilliantly executed drama held in the bones of four or so once vibrant joints. It was the ghosts of these joints that haunted me.
Photo courtesy of Scoutingny.com