I had a rushing, swooping swell of love for New York yesterday. It just hit me as I emerged from the subway, feeling sunshine on my cheekbones for the first time in days. After a few false starts, it's finally fall on the East Coast. That tumbling love feeling stayed with me all day, and then all night as I shuffled myself, behind a white mask, at the McKittrick Hotel for Sleep No More.
It is hard to explain the experience. (If you want to understand what it is, read this NYT review.) (Potential spoilers ahead.)
In a silent elevator, the conductor, with his Irish lilt, blocked me from leaving on the third floor, even though K, E, and S had already spilled out. The doors closed and I stifled a giggle; no one could see my smile when the conductor leaned into me and whispered, "I think you'll find luck tonight."
I did. The first room I discovered when I was finally let off had a single crib centered in a shaded room; bursting up above it were about 75 headless baby dolls, frozen in a choreographed routine. I stood there alone, taking it in; an actor appeared and performed a show around the crib, just for me. She left, and I stayed.
That was my favorite floor of Sleep No More -- children's bedrooms, filled with vintage books and strewn-about bedclothes. An office, with open drawers I could rifle through, letters half-written in old Smith-Coronas. A parlor, with chaises covered in white sheets; a turntable playing old jazz, the kind of haunting music I can't get out of my head. I went back to that floor twice, just to re-check on the bedrooms, to see if the same books were still open to the same pages; to see if the dolls had moved.
Eventually I made my way to the next floor, where I watched a woman hanging laundry (it was actually wet -- a nice touch); then a bell rang, and she paused, shrugged on a jacket, and the crowd of about 30 rushed after her. She ended up walking through a wooded maze and meeting up with another nurse; they drew on the ground with chalk and kissed. They were in a tragic sort of love.
In the psychiatric ward I stood alone, surrounded by empty beds with diagnoses nailed to the walls and blood on the sheets. I waited for an actor or a dancer to appear -- there was so much potential in that room -- but when none showed, I reluctantly left, wandering until I found a woman trying to leave her husband, suitcase in hand; he threw her against a wall and left. You have to find your own show in Sleep No More.
Back in the lounge, I took off my mask and listened to French '30s music and relished my returned visibility; the mask had made me feel like a ghost, like a peeping Tom. For a second I forgot I didn't need to be scared anymore -- the game was over.