Monday, July 25, 2011

To Sleep No More

I leave the elevator alone and walk into the black. Suddenly there are trees; a sparse forest of pine trees in eerie twilight, and still, I am alone. The music pulses, it builds, and I want to be afraid, but instead relax into the sound and emptiness. And I keep walking.

I had traveled to Manhattan in part to experience Punchdrunk's production of Sleep No More, a dreamlike telling of Macbeth spread over five dark floors of the former McKittrick Hotel. Audience members are handed masks as they enter and told to stay silent for the duration, which, depending on the time you arrive and your endurance, could span up to seven hours. You walk through the hotel rooms, ruffle through their contents, and chase actors and music that cues you into knowing something will soon happen. I followed Macbeth through a graveyard, stood next to him on a balcony as he watched Lady Macbeth below. I pulled back the bloodied sheets of a hospital bed. A clue?

The curious will be rewarded, we had been told.

My own sense of curiosity guided this trip--not only towards Sleep No More but also into Brooklyn, and up the stairs to the storied Gleason's boxing gym. My training session with Lennox Blackmore took place on a 104 degree day and it, too, was like a dream; within minutes of meeting me, Len secured my eyeglasses into his locker, which is papered with photos such as one with him, Hillary Swank and her Oscar for Million Dollar Baby, partially won for her work here.

I couldn't see my way around the country's oldest boxing gym, so I kept close to Len. So close that, for the first time in my life, I was accused of behaving like Joe Frazier. What, you're Joe Frazier? he'd say, and push me away from him. I'd come in again and he'd use both hands to push me back. This went on until I realized what he was trying to teach me: I've got a good reach and I should use it. I can punch from all the way back here.

The rest is a dream sequence. I remember certain combos, the 100 crunches, Len teaching me how to drink the water he poured into my mouth while my hands were laced up. Passing belt holders in the shower. Piling up my sweat-drenched clothes and heading back out into the heat.

A blur. But one that opened up into a world of color, one that Manhattan streets can't help but maintain. "Sharing-And-Caring," a resident of park in the East Village: thank you for your poems. Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty at the Met. Zarkana, by Cirque de Soleil. My world is brighter and richer now, for you.

The curious will be rewarded.

I left the forest to find myself wandering into a hotel lobby from the 1930s. The sign-in register had been scribbled on, but no point in adding my name. Instead, I took the small bell and jingled it. An actor approached and reached for my hand. He led me to a chair in front of a piano, and other masked audience members gathered. After playing a few keys, he lip-synched Is that All There Is? for me. Tears streamed down his face. He left the stage, took my hand, and led me back to the desk. He held out a cloth, and I knew I was to wipe his tears. One cheek--he's not moving--then the other. His forehead. I handed it back to him. He buried his face in the cloth, put it down, and kissed my hand. I knew that was my cue to walk away, and move on.

8 comments:

  1. wow wow wow. those are some INCREDIBLE experiences, thank you for sharing even just a glimpse of them.

    i have heard about 'sleep no more' from a couple of different friends who have gone and they have all raved about it.

    as for the lennox experience. just, wow.

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  2. Yeah, I could have just written "wow, wow, and wow" and that would have summed it all up. Sleep No More was like nothing I've ever seen, and I didn't see it all--got back to my friend's apartment and she's like, "Did you see the xyz?" And I'm like, "No--but did you see the abc?" And she hadn't. Amazing.

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  3. Dying to see Savage Beauty show. I'll never forget Bette Midler singing 'Is that All There Is' right after 9/11.

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  4. Be prepared to stand in line for oh, about 2 hours--before you're blown away. I mean, seriously: skulls on the shoulders say Don't. Mess. With. Me.

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  5. What a super cool excursion you had! The Sleep No More thing is fascinating; I spent the last half hour just clicking around reading about it. I would love to hear more.

    And GLEASON'S!!! Sigh. I'm all jellie, as the kids say. ("Jealous", for those of you without teenagers.)

    LOVED hearing about your trip. Enjoyed the photos, too.

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  6. I owe you an email, Lisa; I'll tell you more there soon as I get a second from wiping up creek dirt from my floors (frog hunting happens daily here).

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  7. I saw you post that you had absinthe before a show and I knew it had to be Sleep No More. Maybe I was prone to liking it, considering my haunted house pedigree, but a month later I can't stop thinking about it. I really want to go again to see other scenes. I saw the same lip-sync scene that you did, but you had a different experience. I was dropped off on a different floor, too. Very interesting.

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  8. No way, Glenn! I'm going to go email you to hear your experiences. There should be a club for people who have been there.

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