Noah and I were alerted to the performance by friends who had friends who worked on Bioshock who traveled to NYC just to see the play. It did have a very Bioshock feel.
There is no stage, rather, the set is a big four story building in Chelsea. The audience is sent in wearing masks, forbidden from speaking, and encouraged to split up. You then wander through the set until you find some actors to watch. Or not. You're allowed to touch anything you want on set, and rifle through drawers and such, and inside the drawers are hand-written notes.
It all takes place in a 1930's setting with a lot of occult stuff and great vintage furniture. There's a graveyard area, a mini-forest-maze, a street with little shops, a taxidermy room, apparently a hotel lobby that I never saw (more on this later).
The play is performed almost wordlessly in three 45-minute iterations with a lot of simultaneous action. The first time through I was lucky enough to find Macbeth and Lady Macbeth right away. I followed Macbeth as he went off and killed a couple people, participated in some kind of blood orgy, and then I watched Lady Macbeth go crazy and wind up in a mental institution before a final-looking dinner scene.
Then the action began again and I figured I'd follow some minor characters. I decided to chase one of the witches, but he was too fast for me. I can't emphasize enough that you need to wear running shoes for this production. The actors run up and down the stairs going from one scene to the next. I was intent on following them, but not everyone in the audience was. New York City-style I tried to dodge slower people on the narrow stairs like I was late for a train. The actors were much better at this than I was.
I say it was like a videogame because as I ran around the set I felt like I was revealing areas on a map, which is the kind of thing that I hate about games. The actors ran in dizzying paths and I couldn't get much of a feel on what was on each floor, except during frustrating moments when I couldn't find any actors.
Wearing masks and acting like silent observers made me feel like a ghost. But sometimes, the actors do interact with the audience, and it's creepy each time. The tell you "Fortune favors the bold" going in, and if you stick too closely to the actors, things happen to you. I followed a cute-looking detective (squeeeeeeeee did I mention the homo-erotic shaving scene yet?) for a long time. I stuck to the detective like a ghost Watson. At one point, he holds an umbrella in the graveyard. He looked directly at me and had me hold the umbrella for a while. I felt important.
But Noah, Noah got bit by a witch. He followed her into a small room and she shut the door behind him. Then she pulled out three of his hairs and braided them, casting a spell, I suppose. Then she bit him on the neck.
There are so many sharp objects and fight scenes where you nearly get kicked in the head that it's the sort of thing you ought to have to sign a waiver to see. And as we know from Dos Equis, if you have to sign a release form, it's probably worth doing.
There are scenes that only one to three people can watch at a time. In fact, it's impossible to see the entire play. I saw one scene that could only be witnessed by three people, and I felt like I'd unlocked a secret level. I hate that kind of thing in videogames, but I loved it in real life.
I like this Vice review of the play, THIS SLEEP NO MORE THING IS FUCKED with hilarious quotes:
“You wear masks, there is an orgy, and some dude kills himself.” Another friend said, “You see a murder, some people get naked, and a chick shits a baby out of her ass.”
I guarantee it’s something you need to see if you’ve ever wanted to know what it feels like to live inside a David Lynch film.
The show keeps getting renewed. It's playing through November. It's pricey, but worth it. Get an early ticket if you go, they just keep letting people in the later it gets. In fact, the addition audience was totally annoying. I'd pay extra to have half the audience number.
Of the articles I've read about Punchdrunk in my feverish research, this is the best one. I want to read more about their previous production, Moonslavebut I haven't found much about it. Here's what went down:
One early show, The Moonslave, played over four nights to only four people. 'Ah, that was my favourite show ever. You arrived expecting to see a show in a village hall. But you found only two hundred empty seats with programmes laid out on them. A phone rings on stage. It's inside a parcel addressed to you. You answer the phone, and a voice says "Your car is outside". A masked chauffeur opens the door, and suddenly you are wrenched away from conventional theatre, driving at 60 miles an hour through the darkened countryside while lush symphonic Shostakovich plays over the speakers. You arrive at a huge house, dark except for one light at an upstairs window…' Soon you are following an invisible princess along a torchlit trail in the garden, passing installations of abandoned steaming coffee cups and still-smoking cigarettes until, as you reach the edge of the forest, the music builds to a loud Danny Elfman-style crescendo and suddenly a red marine flare illuminates 200 grinning scarecrows.