I never would have thought that two and a half hours in a darkened, dressed up warehouse could change the way I experienced the world-but it did. Punchdrunk Theater’s “Sleep No More”, a production taking place at the McKittrick Hotel on 27th and 10th, was a gift to my senses.
Wanting to go into the experience with a clean slate, I avoided reading any reviews or engaging in any discussions, only noting the general consensus to be “it was awesome.” Taking to heart the management’s promise, “The more you explore, the greater your reward,” I spent the first thirty to forty-five minutes wandering from floor to floor. There was an eerie stillness about it all, as if time had stopped and here I was scraping around, excavating leftover memories.
As the relics around me presented themselves like open-ended questions, I started playing detective, using them as a means to formulate a hypothetical story about the hotel and the people who had previously inhabited these rooms.
The stillness was broken when I turned a corner and discovered a space containing two rows of bathtubs–all empty except for one. A group of spectators were gathered round a bathtub watching a nurse dip a blood-tinged striped pajama top in and out of the cold water. I wondered if we’d soon meet the owner of the pajama top or if their life had recently passed. Had they died of pneumonia, rheumatic fever or the results of their own misadventure? Were they on the mend?
Down the hall, I found a small study with a manual typewriter and a flurry of letters. Sitting down at the desk, examining the words on the piece of paper rolled around the typewriter’s platen, reading these antiqued messages by candlelight, filled me with curiosity and excitement. In an adjacent room, on a bedside table beside an unmade bed, a book lay open to a passage outlining the process of delivering last rites to the dying. Reading these pages aloud, I stood there imagining the scene and envisioning the final moments in that life.
At the end of the night, as audience members spilled out onto 10th avenue, I decided to take a circuitous route back to the C train. As I ambled around, a marvelous thing began to happen, and I found myself suddenly interested in the little tidbits, details and nuggets of life I’d once overlooked.
Passing the windows of BBQs on 23rd street, I noted a man and a woman sitting at table sipping blue and red margaritas from over-sized glasses and laughing with one another. I found myself transfixed by their simplicity, the way they held their knives and forks, and the methods they used to pull apart their crispy chicken wings.
What were they talking about, and how were they affecting one another? What did all of that say about them, and what did that mean about the kind of man he was, or about the woman sitting across from him? Was it his coworker, wife, sister or lover? How long had they known one another and why did they choose a restaurant specializing in Texan-sized drinks and delectables?
I stood there for a minute to contemplate these new questions when suddenly their eyes were upon me. Hurrying off, I ran down the stairs of the subway station and found an older woman sitting on the tile beating a tambourine, her small dog licking her exposed toes. All of this left me invigorated and elated with the sensation of having stepped into the city for the first time.Sometimes you have to go it alone to really see what’s right in front of you.
Krista Komondor’s play MERCY MACHINE explores the implications of aggressive treatments at the end of life. She is currently bobbing around the Hudson River on a sailboat.