Sleep No More, Continued
Soon, you would catch a glance of an actor, the only creatures milling about without masks. The mute actors rarely acknowledged your presence, but when they did, it was transformative. They danced, undressed, cried, lamented and exalted in the disorienting dimness. For the days prior, I obnoxiously forbid my friends to tell me what to expect from the theatrical experience, so I seriously had no idea what the hell was going on. Sleep No More would not be an ideal place for those with a low tolerance for ambiguity. The only advice I allowed myself to absorb was Steve’s: “Follow the naked man.” Good advice on any day. I entered a strobe-lighted room to find a simulated orgy in progress. Half-clad female actors and completely nude male actors (unless you count the enormous bull head engulfing his head) laughing and ravishing each other. A pregnant madam. A plastic baby upon a bloody altar. MacBeth was not an upbeat play. Satisfied, the naked man snaked through the white plastic-faced crowd into a bathroom. I crowded in close as he showered. He impatiently gestured to the on-lookers to hand him a towel, undergarments, socks. I helped him put on his pants. As quickly as he entered the shower, he was dressed and floating down the hall to meet another scene. In the Orphanage, perhaps.
I sat down in a vacant tub, one of eight in the asylum community bathroom. As I absorbed the scene, an actress walked into the room flanked by a curious audience. She lowered herself gently into the murky water of the room’s center tub and stripped off her long-sleeved nightgown. I watched for a while then made my way to a large medical ward with nine wire-framed cross-blessed twin beds. I laid down on the worn-out mattress next to the cot filled with flat rocks and breathed deep. A few moments later, a fellow voyeur rushed past the bunks, took a glance at my form and exclaimed plainly under his mask, “That’s creepy.” And thus, the crowd unwittingly lends itself to the collective experience. “He called me ‘creepy’!” I fawned in my head.
If the crowd followed an actor one way, I tended to dash the other direction, being a bit crowd-adverse and distancing myself from the lemmings. This tendency is probably why I was in a constant state of blissful confusion. I kept finding myself in the throes of a scene in progress or better yet, alone in a dusty bedroom only to be burst upon by a barefoot actor with an entourage. Though my friends all enjoyed the immersive experience in our own way, each of us came away with a definitive appreciation for aspects of the play. One friend realized she prefers a more straight-forward story and was not as compelled as Penny and I were from the provocative imagery. Trying to find the right word to describe our individual experience, Penny and I settled on: titillating.
At the conclusion of the play, the patrons were nudged into a large ballroom. We watched in unsettled intrigue as violence hung deep in the air. Yes, that sentence is not supposed to make any sense. I can’t spoil everything for you!
We walked somberly to the place in which we started the night, the Manderley Bar, a velvet-swathed speak-easy offering absinthe shots and dreamy crooners onstage. If there wasn’t a pin-up girl selling cigarettes from a box suspended from her neck, there should have been. Welcome to The Hotel California.