Sleep No More
Earlier this fall, when American Repertory Theater's Artistic Director Diane Paulus told a group of journalists that Punchdrunk's co-production of Sleep No More with her company would change American theater, I assumed she was exaggerating a bit. Nope. Paulus was just being honest. Created by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle with their Punchdrunk company members, this British invasion slowly seeps under your skin, slithers up into your head and strikes your nervous system from within. The North American premiere of this 2003 Hitchcock-meets-Shakespeare show is like nothing you've experienced in the theater.
With a few lines of maniacally whispered Shakespeare, some brilliantly choreographed encounters, an ominous and thrilling score, and countless carefully lit scenic designs that melt into the building itself, the creative team and performers of Sleep No More cast a spell on the audience that's tough to break. There were even distinct aromas permeating many of the chambers (although no Olfactory Designer is credited in the program).
Audience members wore white medieval beak doctor masks as we wandered through dozens of meticulously designed environments in Brookline's transformed Old Lincoln School. Surely numbering into the thousands, the real stars of this show were the props. Props Master Cindy Lee-Sullivan and her team must have raided countless flea markets and antique shops for an unbelievable array of strange and mysterious treasures.
If you like theater, film, theme parks, haunted houses, mystery, music, art, dance, fashion, thrillers, good drinks (there's a bar with $2 rye punch), or all of the above, you must see Sleep No More. While you're reading this review, you should multi-task and open a second browser window to the A.R.T. ticket site. The production's intriguing, full-sensory approach is worth your entertainment dollars in this economy. Because the show unfolds in a choose-your-own-adventure style, it's impossible for me to provide a linear plot. Instead, I'll offer some suggestions to make the most of your experience. A theatergoing friend started this list before I attended and her insight was immensely helpful:
After experiencing the show, I returned home and cautiously entered my apartment with a heightened sense of reality. The dim light from the lamps were waiting for something to happen. There were minute noises I had never noticed. Slowly opening the drawers in my kitchen, I wanted to see might be resting inside. Rarely is theater so viscerally and cognitively transformative that it travels home with you.
Sleep No More runs through January 3 (though I hope A.R.T. and Punchdrunk extend the run) at the Old Lincoln School, 194 Boylston St., Brookline. A.R.T. will offer a chance to see all its fall offerings during a special Shakespeare Exploded weekend, December 4 through 6. For tickets and information, visit the A.R.T. box office, call 617-547-8300, or purchase online at www.americanrepertorytheater.org.
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