Sleep No More…It’s No Jersey Boys

PHOTO: New York Times 

“I heard it’s better on shrooms”

So said our waiter Nestor at Son Cubano, a Nuevo Latino supper club that featured both intoxicating coconut mojitos and delicious Serrano ham croquettes (dubbed “ham balls” by our party). And Nestor, like his character in The Odyssey, was wise in pointing out that Sleep No More is for those who partake regularly in acid trips.

Here’s a few thoughts…

The Set…is freakin’ impressive. The scope of this production is amazing. The show takes place over several floors in a warehouse. The rooms are decorated to look like a nasty old-timey hotel. Think HBO’s Carnivale meets Clue. The McKittrick Hotel also contains a forest and a psych ward. Because why not? You are invited to open drawers, go through closed doors, and snoop around. In fact, the host told us, in his put-on Christopher Walken accent, that “bold will be rewarded.” Rewarded with what? I didn’t find shit. Blank envelopes in an office? Fish tackle? If I wanted to snoop around a musty place with weird items, I’d go to my Oma’s basement. This brings me to my first disappointment: I would’ve enjoyed Sleep No More if I wasn’t given the impression that I could make meaning of the stuff I found in drawers. I felt like I was wasting time.

The Plot…is a challenge. Speaking of “making meaning,” there really isn’t much of a plot. The play is based on both Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hitchcock’s Rebecca. (I knew about Macbeth but not Rebecca—knowing both would have helped). All the characters have their own sequence that they repeat a few times in the course of an evening but I didn’t catch how many of them connected. I spent the majority of my time in the McKittrick trying to figure out how others fit into Macbeth’s story (and looking for my others in my party). That’s the problem with basing a production on well-known story. Viewers try to organize new information according to what they already know.

At the end of the night, we were presented with a book that explained everything. Purchase this coffee table book and find out what the hell was happening. My friend aptly reacted, “That would have been helpful three hours ago.” Indeed I wonder if this is how Jackson feels when he watches Yo Gabba Gabba. Maybe his internal monologue is similar to mine: “This shit makes no sense but I can’t take my eyes off of it.”

The Dance…is awesome. It’s nice to see a successful production largely based on contemporary dance. Dialogue is nonexistent so dance has to do the work of storytelling.  Grunts, screams, shouts abound. But the only line I heard was Mrs. Macbeth whispering “Let me see your face” to her bloody husband. Mr. & Mrs. were stirring, athletic dancers. It was a shame I couldn’t find many other dance “scenes.”

 Should You See It?

This was definitely the most interesting theatre experience I’ve ever had. I’m happy I got to experience it (note I used the word “experience” not “see” or “view”). The play is full of sensory overload and truly is an experience. Moreover, while I didn’t enjoy Sleep No More at every turn, I thought about it for a long time afterward—still trying to make meaning of what I saw. Sleep No More clearly straddles the divide between a show and fine art in this respect. When you go see a Broadway show, there’s really no room for dialogue beyond what was your favorite part? or didn’t you love that guy’s voice? But with Sleep No More, each member of our party saw different things, had different information to relay, and different impressions to report. The conversation on the way home was very informative.

See Sleep No More if you like…

contemporary dancing


Haunted Houses

Feeling like you don’t know what the hell is going on

Don’t see  Sleep No More if you like…

melodious, fairly recognizable music

symmetrical choreography

sitting down

a spoon-fed plot

Jersey Boys

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