“Sleep No More” (NYC): Horror Nuts, Get Thee to the McKittrick Hotel!

The cast of Sleep No More

Something wicked brews in New York City.

The mega-metropolitan American city is blessed with the coming of an overseas phenomenon. Punchdrunk Theater, a highly revered London-based ball-breaking theater team of visionaries, came to the U.S. in Boston in 2009 with something extra dark, extra horrific, and super gay: it was called Sleep No More, an immersive theater production where the audience roams the “show” and enters an absolutely mesmerizing dream world created just for you.

Luke Murphy and Careena Mella. Oh – and also a deer.

Now Sleep No More has come to New York, bigger and badder and with a blood-red vengeance. It’s a show, yes – you pay $75-95 smackaroos like a typical theater ticket, and on the time of your performance you arrive early and check your bags and coats. From thereon, it’s a whole new dimension, girl…

Cast and audience mix and mingle

You enter the Manderlay bar (Rebecca!), a prohibition era speakeasy straight out of that sexy taboo time of the ’20s and ’30s, coated in red velvet, a band stage, and a full service bar of surprising and delightful concoctions. You’re given a card: an Ace, a two, a three, a Jack. And you’re told to wait until your number is called. Soon enough, it is.

You’re handed a white mask which you are to not remove for the entire duration, and then you are thrust into an elevator with a too-friendly bellhop and swiftly delivered to the Hotel McKittrick (Vertigo!).

What happens from here is your choice. Whichever route you choose to take in this shadowy playground is completely up to you. After you’ve left, however, you and all your cronies will have participated in one of the most refreshingly original theater experiences of the 21st century.

One of the show's hyperreal walkthroughs

I won’t spoil anything. The point is to totally let yourself go and prepare for a (safely insured and harmless) trip into the unknown for several hours. What I will say is this: you will find yourself in hazy labyrinthian hallways, inspecting bedrooms, entering filthy asylums and padded rooms, slinking through foggy graveyards, sneaking samples in an olde candy shoppe, getting caught in a deviant rave sequence, and even witnessing murder.

Sleep No More is the ultimate release for the queer-horror mind. All those times you wished you could enter The Shining, Mulholland Drive, Eyes Wide Shut, and/or any number of sensual, mysterious classics by Alfred Hitchcock, your dreams come true here. It’s a huge haunted mansion, and it’s yours for the taking.

The Shining‘s Grady Twins

Upon stumbling upon it in Boston through ’09 and ’10, I’ve been hooked. Punchdrunk has ensured through their painstaking set production detail, creative use of familiar plotlines, and full trust in its audience members that your stay at the McKittrick is a surreal and unsettling dive down the rabbit hole. You’ll want to keep coming back for more because there’s just so much to see. It’s like a book you never want to put down, a nightmare you can’t help but repeat.

You may feel like you’re on drugs – and perhaps some of you will be. For Shakespeare fans, this is a huge boner-baiter: this entire world is a Dali-esque venture into Macbeth, characters and all. There’s so much for the film fans, particularly those of David Lynch and Kubrick, that honestly, you can make this show whatever you wish it to be. There are no rules. You can frolic through the space as if you’re Queen of England and someone spiked your punch. I’ve tried it.

Nicole Kidman and friend in Eyes Wide Shut

See you there, white mask and all. Oh, and don’t be frightened if one of the gorgeous performers looks you in the eye, takes you by the hand, leads you away from your masked friends and into their own private quarters, and shuts the door behind you… it’s all part of the show. Or is it?

Robert McNeil in Sleep No More

Find it at 530 W 27th St in the Chelsea area (Ed.: If I’m not mistaken, this used to be the megaclub Twilo. If so, I’ve probably spent far more horrifying and hallucinatory evenings there already… but I still can’t wait to see this next week!).¬†Buy your tickets online if you dare, at the show’s official site. $75 on weeknights, $85 on Thursdays and weekend midnight shows, $95 for weekend shows at primetime. Explore the Punchdrunk world on the company’s official website.

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About Ross

Ross studied film at Emerson while working for indie producers, and he critiques shit from a queer POV here and @GingerBredhaus. He also produced 2015 gay horror slasher comedy YOU'RE KILLING ME and creates immersive theater in NYC.