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Sleep No More - Beyond Words

I went to the opening of the American Repertory Theater's Sleep No More last night.  This show is set at an abandoned school in Brookline, MA.  The show is a representation of (not a production of) Macbeth.  It's put on by the UK's Punchdrunk company.

Those are the facts.  However, the production goes way beyond the facts.  If you like your theater spoonfed to you one line at a time while you sit and watch, Sleep No More may not be for you.  But, it may also be just what you need to wake up and explore.

This is a show that you go and find.  You are dropped off on your own on one of four floors of the school.  The environment has been changed to an incredibly detailed series of almost 50 rooms that you wander between.  Every audience member is wearing a mask.  You can examine and touch the sets.  You can wander through any open door.  You can walk right up to the actors.  And, you are not allowed to talk.  That's OK, because the actors barely talk, too.  There's some murmuring between the characters, and some crying, laughing, yelling, etc.  But, no lines of Shakespeare or any dialogue at all.

However, if you stay close to the actors, they'll whisper to you.  I had several characters whisper things to me that indicated what they were thinking about.  And, I had one 'private encounter' with one character who brought me into a small room and told me a story about their dreams.  We didn't talk, but it was like being in a dream myself.

I identified some of the major characters, like Macbeth, Macduff, Lady Macbeth, and Duncan.  But, I never figured out who some of the characters where.  And, I figured out what many of the rooms were, but not all of them.  I witnessed some of the major scenes in Macbeth, such as when Lady Macbeth tries to wash the blood off of her hands.  But, I also never saw some of the others.  And, I wasn't sure how some things I did see fit into the story.

However, despite my confusion, I didn't want it to end.  I wanted to keep going and to try to put it together.  Some scenes are put on more than once.  I saw the major banquet scene twice.  You could go to this show multiple times and still not see it all.  I already have plans to return in a couple of days.

Despite the lack of dialogue, the show is anything but quiet.  There is a constant soundtrack that varies by room.  It's like the climactic music from a Hitchcock movie.  The costumes and sets are out of the 1920s, as is the Manderley bar where you can take a break or hang out after the show. Some of the rooms where downright spooky, and the lighting and soundtrack created a haunting experience.

When my journey started, I wandered around trying to look at all the rooms.  That was interesting, but next time I'll focus more on following the characters around right from the start.  Of course, you don't know when you'll encounter a character or who they are.  But, you quickly figure out who the major characters are.  And, they develop entourages of audience members following them around.  When they dart from one room to the next, you race down the hallway to keep up with them.

I'd strongly suggest brushing up on Macbeth before going.  I read the synopsis on Wikipedia, but I'll try to find something even more detailed.  I think it might help.  But, the adventurer in me wants to keep going back to see it all and put all the pieces together.  I can't imagine that it would be the same experience twice.

This was one of the most unique theater experiences I have ever had.  Even when I was wandering around on my own, I was never bored.  I can't wait to go back.

 

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