The McKittrick Hotel in Manhattan was completed in 1939, but this luxury hotel was condemned and never opened… until now when the performance of Sleep No More checked in.
“Here is your room key,” the usher said to my wife and me. She handed us a playing card. Mine was a two, my wife’s was a three. “This way, sir.”
But she didn’t guide us on the walk through the labyrinthine darkness. It felt like a snaking darkroom. I guided my wife by dragging a hand along the felt wall. It led to a bar or the 1930s, a resurrection of a decadent hotel bar never opened or a portal back to a gothic speakeasy.
All I knew about Sleep No More, prior to the performance, was what a few friends had told me: “Maybe you should read Macbeth beforehand” or “Definitely get drunk.”
I hadn’t read Macbeth and my drinking of Prosecco earlier in the day had only made me tired. At the bar, I ordered the Green Beast–an absinthe punch, which the bartender claimed made the McKittrick the top United States seller of this wormwood liquor.
The red lights refracted through the smoke and reflected off the tops of the crammed black furniture. The lamps on each table looked as if white birds had kamikazied into the fake flames, leaving behind bowls of feathers.
From stage right, a foppish actor entered. He sipped his drink, attempted to seduce the crowd, and then demanded the ace-holders to come inside the hotel. A few minutes later he called the deuces. My wife was panicking. She would not enter without me.
“If it’s as dark as what we just went through,” she warned, “I am not opening my eyes.”
I was going to be at the very least a crutch and at most a seeing eye man.
“Will you trade me your three card for this two?” a man asked me. “My girlfriend is a three and she’s scared to go inside without me.”
I still had most of my absinthe remaining and I also had a frightened wife.
“I’ll give you my two for your three,” I countered, satisfying the lady and buying a few more minutes with the Green Beast.
Then the emcee called the threes.
A seductress with creamy white skin and red lipstick met us at the entrance. She smiled, turned her head, and slowly brought her lips toward us as though she were ready to give either my wife or me a long, deep kiss. “You’re very soft,” she cooed, rubbing our arms.
Then she walked away and the emcee took over the coquettish massage.
“They are soft,” he concurred.
We entered into a room with about twenty other guests, put on white masks with a warped chin, and were told to be quiet.
“You all look lovely tonight,” the elevator attendant said after we received a few instructions–essentially, be bold inside the hotel.
“We all look the same,” joked one of the guests to his female companion.
“You have a great voice. Please don’t use it inside the hotel,” the elevator attendant warned. He offered up a threatening half smile.
The doors opened on the second floor. In front of us was blackness. After the first couple exited the lift, the attendant stuck out his hand, prevented the rest of us from leaving, and shut the doors. Every masked face looked similarly horrified. Silently, he brought the rest of us to the fourth floor.
The other three cards went left out of the lift. I pulled Marissa to the right.
“What are you doing? Let’s stay with the group,” she said in a hushed voice, fearing the consequences of talking as much as she did our isolation in this five-story haunted hotel.
There was no need to defend my decision. (There was no talking.) I entered a room, and started investigating. I left the McKittrick three hours later enthralled, blown away, but utterly confused.
Sleep No More is an immersive theater experience and is as incredible as you are brave, curious, and fast. It would have been the theatrical brainchild of William Shakespeare, Wes Craven, and Edward Packer had they ever lived at the same time and decided to collaborate with one another. (What Shakespeare is to theater and Craven is to horror, Packer is to the choose-your-own-adventure genre.)
I could describe the performance–the bizarre scenes, the chilling countenances, the stark nakedness, the hazardous sets, the acrobatic scenes, the absence of audience juxtaposed by the herds of guests–but entering perplexed and leaving bewildered is part of the fun. Sleep No More is like being invited to the Overlook Hotel to view a silent, improvised performance of The Shining, but at the same time, you’re never really sure if you should trail Jack because he might, after all, want to kill you, too.
There are only five rules to follow to improve your adventure at Sleep No More:
- Read everything: Pick up half-finished notes and spy over an actor’s shoulder as they punch away at the typewriter.
- Follow the lunatics: They are the action. You’ll have moments where you’ll want to check on victims, but trust that they’ll disappear through trapdoors.
- Accept invitations: If an actor invites you into a locked room, follow. This didn’t happen to me, but I was witness to such events and it left me extraordinarily curious.
- Open things: Read the books, sift through draws, uncover jars, eat the candy.
- Check your watch: Make sure you arrive at the dinner scene on the bottom floor for the resolution. The black-masked ushers will wordlessly encourage you in that direction, but some guests still manage to miss it. Though the play repeats a few times throughout the night and you may think you’ve already seen this exchange, do not leave.
If you’re looking for cheap flights to New York to experience Sleep No More, consider this post’s sponsor, Flight Hub.
Photo by Robin Roemer