by Tom Lee
Cast-off shoes in a corner closet...dolls sprouting twigs where their heads should be...a room full of bathtubs, one with a snake slithering in water...pine trees moving in an auditorium filled with statues and mist...and all the while, actors (and audience) moving silently in and out of rooms in a trance-like dance of death.
This is the surreal world of the American Repertory Theater's latest production Sleep No More, created by Punchdrunk, a company making its U.S. debut after years of acclaim in Britain, their native country. Staged in an old school building in Brookline, the show is a life-sized cabinet of curiosities through which audience members wander, guided only by their intuition and the occasional nod or tug of their sleeve by a member of the cast. And yes, there is a narrative of sorts: a mash-up of Macbeth ("Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!' Macbeth does murder sleep'"), Eyes Wide Shut (the audience wears masks, a la the Kubrick film), and several Alfred Hitchcock classics (sharp-eyed and -eared cineastes will pick up clues from Vertigo, Rebecca, Psycho and more).
I attended the show on Wednesday night, and it haunts me still. Evocative, dissonant, confounding, endlessly mysterious and sometimes exquisitely beautiful, Sleep No More lets you create your own performance, your own movie: you are the camera, you are the editor, you are the choreographer and stage manager (and sometimes an actor).
Harvard undergraduates are invited to delve deeper into Punchdrunk's methods and aesthetic in a workshop led by company directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle on Tuesday, November 3 at 3:30 pm, co-sponsored by the A.R.T. and the Office for the Arts' Learning From Performers program. There is a prerequisite: you must attend a performance of Sleep No More (the A.R.T. is offering a special discount for students).
But you wouldn't want to miss this extraordinary experience anyway: go to Sleep, and watch your dreams and nightmares come alive.
[Caption: Get carded at "Sleep No More"]