Friday, August 12, 2011

Afterlife, spoiler-alert: Me convincing you to see Sleep No More

I'm the last person that appreciates good theater. Case in point: at Yale, I fell asleep, at least for a little bit, during every play I attended, whether it was Angels in the Outfield, Arcadia, The Importance of Being Earnest, that play in JE Jeff Gordon was in April 2009 I can't remember, or...wait, that's it. (At least I didn't fall asleep in The Shadowbox. But that's because I was an assistant stage manager.)

On August 6th, I saw Sleep No More. And, true to the name of the play, I didn't fall asleep. Didn't even get tired. Was sprightly and raving the entire time. Crazier still, I spent $90 on tickets. I've never spent that much on a concert, rave, sports game, dinner, or shoes, ever.

What convinced me? One of my friends told me he would write me a check for $90 if I didn't like it.

Was it worth it?

First, let me mirror the mainstream media: yes. The New York Times said it was so good you didn't need pot to enjoy it. (Is this how people get through plays?) It's innovative in a mass-appeal sort of way; unique enough for the critics to discuss, but exciting enough for an amateur to really dig.

Second, let me chime in personally: yes. It was a mindf*ck. For $90, I could have seen Inception, Shutter Island, Memento, and (insert 3 more movies). Instead, I lived inside a movie. Imagine seeing the first Matrix onscreen. Now imagine being surrounded by that Matrix green, standing in the office building Neo machine-guns to save Morpheus. That's how Sleep No More felt.

Half the time, I was close enough to touch the actor. Nothing prevented me from punching him and running away; I had that much freedom. I didn't punch him. Instead, I touched him. He touched me. (Not like that!) I smelled his sweat. Saw the dried flecks of fake blood not properly washed off. Sometimes, they used us as human shields, treated us like conspirators. Most of the time, they looked at us with vacant eyes, brushed us off their beds, or bulldozed us aside as they danced.

When Macbeth fled (and he was fast), I ran with him, pounding up the stairs, feeling as though my volition and energy and wits were opening up more of the play to me. I felt better than the other viewers because I thought I was experiencing more than everyone else, even though everyone was probably thinking the same.

Oh yes. The orgy scene. Worth $90 in those 5 minutes. I'll probably flash back to it when I'm 40 years old, sitting by a pool somewhere. I had the great fortune of stumbling on it all 3 times, so I saw it from every conceivable angle. My first viewing was epic. And that's probably the only time I'll ever use the word "epic" adequately. It was epic. 

See, at first, the actors are just fawning over each other in a dimly lit lounge. Then, in the span of 3 seconds, three witches fly in, the lights break, a strobe light turns on, and sharp sycoph-awesome beats earthquake the entire room. Here's what happens in the next minute: a guy disrobes completely. His dick flaps up and down at over 200 rpm. 3 women become topless. The naked man masks his head with a 3-foot goat head, stands on a table, and shimmies. Macbeth is splatted with blood raving and laughing madly. Goat man writhes on the floor. A bloody baby is produced from nowhere and it is kissed in its bloody head over and over and over. The Matrix-style backwards duck happens. All this, mind you, faster than your mind can process because of the strobe lights. With the actors moving at impossible speeds. I felt like I was literally inside a movie.

(And no, I don't feel bad about this spoiler because you still aren't going to be prepared. You never will be.)

The other 2 hours and 45 minutes were also worth $90. Part of it was due to the inherent danger just watching the play. The elevator dropped me off in a cemetery. A real one, with real tombstones and dilapidated turquoise angels surrounded by broken brick walls. I could barely see 10 feet in front of me. That's dangerous. Someone could have injected me with a poisonous needle, choked me, or poked my eyes out, and gotten away with it. I could have done it too. The act of faith coming in here is believing that nobody will intentionally wreak havoc, trip you, leave you in a corner of the room, bloody and bruised. With the masks affording everyone complete anonymity (except me, with a bright red Grover t-shirt), anyone could have gotten away with murder. Which is why this play was so awesome.

One aspect that wasn't important: The plot. I had opportunity cost discomfort the first house; I couldn't watch Macbeth untie his shoelaces because I knew I was missing out on exploring. I only started following Macbeth when I realized he was going to die. The three hour play was really a loop, three times, of a one-hour play. It made the plot intriguing and maddening, because I never figured out where the "beginning" was. The jazz dance, the murder in the bed, the toasting, the washing of the face, the pregnant lady assassination, the check in at the counter: where did it start?

Finally, some real-time thoughts after I returned home: I am tired. 3 hours of walking and running around. It's insane. It's also beautiful. These actors do this how many days a week? The willpower! And they must go crazy.

Best $90 spent? It was pretty good.

Afterwards, James notes, "The masks had white person eye holes, but we had Asian eyes." Ha!

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