To say “Sleep No More” is a theater experience like no other is hardly an overstatement. Set in a cavernous Chelsea warehouse over six floors, the dark and deviceful show, which opened last week, melds plotlines from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” with a haunted house layout and an interactive, audience participation concept.
After donning mandatory Venetian masks, theatergoers are free to roam more than 90 rooms in the 100,000-square-foot space (and the location for this photo shoot, left), dubbed the McKittrick Hotel in a nod to Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” Over 200 art school students volunteered to help execute the painstakingly crafted rooms, which are chockablock with antique furniture, knickknacks and novelties.
Everywhere one looks there’s taxidermy, decaying vegetation, ominously rusty medical tools and countless vitrines and jars containing assorted mysterious objects. Closets are meant to be opened and drawers explored as one walks through the dimly lit expanses, which are elaborate enough to include an outdoor cemetery and the gloomy ruins of Lady Macbeth’s gardens. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure version of the Shakespeare tragedy.
Along the way, adventurers come across several dozen vignettes of scenes loosely related to “Macbeth,” with mostly silent actors fighting in a hallway or thrashing about in a bathtub or making violent love on a bed or seducing each other in a saloon with a steamy tango — and audience members are at times roped into the scenes, to their befuddlement and amusement.
The actors are decked out in dapper Thirties suits or slinky gowns, as the show evokes a mood of Prohibition-era glamour and grittiness — despite the swanky bar, where attendees can begin and conclude their evening’s sojourn with a cocktail.
However, like “Macbeth” itself, the show’s overall tone is sinister and somber. A blood-stained children’s room is meant to recall the killing of the Macduff family in the play, while a detective agency office invokes Malcolm, who is searching for clues to his father’s murder.
“There is an implied narrative of Macbeth, but as a participant you could not care or know anything about ‘Macbeth’ and still experience something powerful,” explained Rebecca Gold, who has co-produced the show with Emursive’s Randy Weiner, Arthur Kapati and Jonathan Hochwald, in partnership with the London-based Punchdrunk theater company. “You create your own journey and the show is refracted through the prism of your own, unique experience.”
Among those who have walked the show are a raft of celebrities and fashion folk — who can hide behind the anonymity of those enigmatic masks — including James Franco, Amy Adams, Diane von Furstenberg, Kim Cattrall, Liev Schreiber, Kevin Spacey, Steven Klein, Ellen von Unwerth, Scott Rudin, John Guare and Tamara Mellon.
“You are very near the emotion of the audience,” said Sophie Bortolussi, the dancer and actress who plays Lady Macbeth. “You can hear someone gasp when people are that close. It’s an energy exchange and a dialogue between performer and audience. It’s a very physical show.”