Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Sleep No More"

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Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi


"SLEEP NO MORE"

directed and devised by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle with the company
Director and Designer … Felix Barrett
Director and Choreographer … Maxine Doyle
Sound and Graphic Designer … Stephen Dobbie
Associate Designers … Livi Vaughan; Beatrice Minns
Costumer … David Israel Reynoso
Staff Director … Mikhael Tara Garver
Assistant Director … Paul Stacey
Stage Manager … Carolyn Rae Boyd

THE CAST

Duncan … Phil Atkins
Malcolm … Hector Harkness
Macbeth … Geir Hytten
Banquo … Vinicius Salles
Macduff … Robert McNeill
Porter … Thomas Kee
Lady Macbeth … Sarah Dowling
Lady Macduff … Alli Ross
Witch … Conor Doyle
Witch … Stephanie Eaton
Witch … Fernanda Prata
Hecate … Careena Melia
The Second Mrs. de Winter … Poornima Kirby
Mrs. Danvers … Tori Sparks
Bellhop … Alexander LaFrance
Annie Darcy … Annie Goodchild
Elsie Price … Haley Jane Soggin
Man in Bar … Robert Najarian

THE CAST
from November 10

Duncan … Phil Atkins
Malcolm … Robert Najarian
Macbeth … Eric Bradley
Banquo … Jeffery Lyon
Macduff … Luke Murphy
Porter … Thomas Kee
Lady Macbeth … Hope T. Davis
Lady Macduff … Alli Ross
Witch … Andrew Broaddus
Witch … Stephanie Eaton
Witch … Kelly Bartnik
Hecate … Careena Melia
The Second Mrs. de Winter … Poornima Kirby
Mrs. Danvers … Tori Sparks
Bellhop … Alexander LaFrance
Annie Darcy … Annie Goodchild
Elsie Price … Haley Jane Soggin
Man in Bar … Robert Najarian

THE ANNIE DARCY BAND

Bass/Sax … Timo Shanko
Drums … Django Carranza
Piano … Rusty Scott

How can one explain one’s dreams to another? They sound flimsy and silly in the waking world --- their narratives are fragmented, their symbols are vague, and the dreamer is often a passive observer --- thus I am challenged when trying to describe SLEEP NO MORE, a spellbinding collaboration between American Repertory Theatre and the British troupe Punchdrunk in its American debut, where Shakespeare’s MACBETH is filtered through Hitchcockian suspense with the results played out (dreamt?) in an abandoned Brookline school … leave those under sixteen at home due to some nudity and the evening’s hypnotic intensity … wear comfortable clothing and walking shoes … this is not SpookyWorld … this is not a Salem tourist-trap … this is SLEEP NO MORE … you step into the inferno-red Manderley bar where you are given a numbered playing card … your group-number is called and you stand before a darkened threshold … you are all given identical white half-masks with protruding upper lips … masks that hide yet liberate you … you are all One, now, and will not distract the actors who must perform amongst you with trancelike concentration … you are solemnly told to wear your mask at all times while inside … you are not to speak … you are not to whisper … and you are free to wander where you please through four darkened floors of the abandoned school … you may choose to follow Macbeth and others as they drift towards their destinies, or you may go off to discover endless wonders on your own … you may examine, open, touch anything that you encounter … black-masked attendants, stationed like sentinels, will guide and assist you … this is YOUR dream: what you get out of SLEEP NO MORE depends solely on how much you want to participate … no one is going to force you, these next three hours … you begin in a 1930s hotel lobby … the soundtrack to VERTIGO washes over you … you boldly cross to the check-in counter and open a small box, at random … you are amazed to find it actually filled … filled with old letters, including a typed note from Macbeth to his Lady that Duncan is coming for supper, tonight … you move on … you touch the books … you examine the apothecary jars in the adjoining room … you are tempted to taste the claret in the decanter to see if it’s really iced tea … you become a child, again, playing amid the trunks in the attic … it is all there for you … everything that you touch is real … solid … the rooms are astonishingly detailed … worthy of a movie set, but deserted, save for these ghosts and you … the rooms are dim, lit only by lamps, candles and strategically-placed spots … but you’ve lingered in one spot for too long, and your friends and loved ones have moved on … where are they? … the corridors are now filled with white-masks, gliding through the dimness … masks that suddenly turn to drift after one of the actors to wherever… have your people gone upstairs or below? … the nightmare panic of being lost … separated … you want to call out for them but you’ve been forbidden to speak … but now you are free to wander and dream on your own … somehow, somewhere, you will be reunited … you move on, opening doors and stepping inside … a large ornate bed with Lady Macbeth writhing on it in restless sleep … she battles with the bed-clothes, then smoothes out the wrinkles, slips a dagger under a pillow and glides away … you move on, but not after her … no, you want to explore … you adjust to being part of this dream … your body rhythms slow down and you start to glide, yourself … glide as in the trance-promenades of early avant-garde films … whatever you touch, you do so with hands that gracefully, gently, extend from your arms … the halls are crowded but hushed … oh, the eternal fascination of the Night, when everything is soaked in nocturnal tones … and your fellow masks move so nimbly, so quietly, like a seasoned ensemble … no one is ever in anyone’s way … you all follow an instinctive, flowing dance … you find yourself, alone, in an auditorium with pine trees bathed in red light … smells of real evergreens … through the red, slanted light, you see three ancient statues towering in their niches … have you slipped back in time? … the lure of the pagan … anything can and might happen in these rooms … another room … six bathtubs … one tub, filled with pink water … or diluted blood? … another room … hospital beds … one bed displays a human silhouette composed of dirt … another room, its floor littered with clumps of hair … a pregnant woman, sitting at a desk, clipped hair and real garlic-bulbs at her side, reluctantly drinking a suspicious liquid from a tall glass vase while an ominous woman in black hovers over her … a witch or Mrs. Danvers? … they vanish and you see what the mother-to-be has written on paper: “Aroint thee, witch” … another room where gravel crunches beneath your feet … a crumbling statue of Christ in a forgotten garden … not all doors will open: hanging from each locked one is a book tied in ribbon and pierced with a dried rose … you are back in the bedroom where you find your people, again … are they your people? … yes, though you are forbidden to speak … through sheer luck, you also are in time to witness Macbeth smother Duncan in his sleep, then flee with bloody hands … Duncan is ceremoniously wrapped in his sheets and carried off on attendants’ shoulders … you cannot alter these destinies … you can only watch … another room … a bathtub … you catch the tail end of Macbeth, stripped naked, with cleansed hands, dressing for dinner … when he has gone, you notice this tub, too, has pink water in it … two rooms, piled high with dirt … hundreds of white feathers stuck upright in them like tombstones … but one of these rooms is locked … you can only peep through its windows at its dirt and feathers … you drift from hall to hall … or not drift at all … you can remain in one place, if you like, for you won’t be alone for long … ghosts and/or fellow-masks will join you … the VERTIGO music blends and separates from variations of what sounds like the Dies Irae … you may turn a corner … open a door … and find a solitary ghost fulfilling its destiny, alone … this is like THE SHINING … or the French film CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING … you open another door and blink at a perfectly normal restroom … you drift on, touching the students’ lockers, many with combination locks still on them … yet, some lockers are open and lit within by candles, displaying little treasures … another room … smaller, with more pine trees … lit by a single blue light instead of red … you could be in a real foggy forest … you drift into the auditorium just in time to see the stage-curtains part behind a banquet table where Macbeth and his Lady preside … a bloody figure sits among them, and the ensemble slowly melts into debauchery … Macbeth is summoned off the stage by a piercing white light behind you … you turn your head and are stunned to find a Greek-chorus of half-masks silently standing in place … suddenly a banquet guest leaps on Macbeth’s back and lowers a noose around his neck … they disappear, and the pine trees move forward to form Birnam Wood … you drift upstairs … downstairs … the rooms seem to go on, forever … a vibrant stained glass of medieval design at the top of one stairwell … a baby-carriage spotlit in the center of the hall … that carriage wasn’t there, before … it is filled with presents wrapped in newspapers … going up (down?) a stairwell, you look out through a small window and blink at the reality of the street, outside, with cars going to and fro … the dream is not torn asunder … no, you move on and are drawn back in … you find yourself in the bedroom again in time for Duncan’s second demise … you choose to move on before he is wrapped for burial … down in the basement, you pass a poker-game by ghosts in suspenders … who are they? … you find a small room with chair and overhanging light … surely nothing will happen here … ah, but something does … a stylized battle between Macbeth and Macduff … you find yourself back in the auditorium to see the Banquet Scene re-enacted … a witch comes up behind you and massages your shoulders, which you allow for you’ve become part of the evening, but when the witch tries to lead you away, you silently draw back … she does not pursue you … you glance at your watch … you’ve been sleepwalking for nearly three hours … and now the black-masked attendants have begun to move about, rounding up their guests, seeing that no one has gotten lost or been left behind … you move towards the sounds of jazz and laughter … up ahead, you see a neon sign: MANDERLEY … you pass under the sign and find yourself back in the inferno-red bar … the masks come off … smiling (relieved?) faces shine forth … a singer and her jazz-trio knock off a standard to welcome you … you turn in your mask … you order a drink … and awaken.

Is SLEEP NO MORE groundbreaking art? Partially, yes: there’ve been moveable performance pieces, before. Is this theatre? Well, it’s certainly theatrical. Is it cinema? Quite, but with “round”, not “flat”, actors. What may seem at first to be a wandering Event has actually been tightly choreographed, with each performer designated to appear when and where at a specific time --- the show, proper, is an hour long, and performed thrice --- and I have been told it took four months to collect or build the innumerable treasures and junk that fill over three dozen of the classrooms; each room, a stunning theatre-set in itself and so beautifully lit --- I shudder at the thought of industrial lights being switched on, instantly killing the mood (no…no…those ghosts must still be haunting those hallways, waiting for more masks…). For some reason, New York let Punchdrunk slip by, despite its acclaim; instead, the Boston area has been graced with this dream-state. Though SLEEP NO MORE has debuted in time for the Halloween season --- and, indeed, it’s a superior haunted house (for adults) --- it is here for a three-month run. Plenty of time for you to fall under its spell, return to reality, and succumb to it, again, when reality palls. Go --- and come back with the challenge of explaining to others what you’ve experienced…or dreamt?

"Sleep No More" (8 October - 3 January)
PUNCHDRUNK in association with AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATRE
The Old Lincoln School, 194 Boylston Street, BROOKLINE, MA
1 (617) 547-8300

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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