I show my ticket, a blue six of spades, and I am dropped off on the top floor. (I think it’s the top floor. I keep losing track.) The audience members all wear white masks and are bound to silence. There is definitely a forest on this floor, and a couple on the dance floor dancing a polka. Aha! They must be the Macbeths! They stop dancing and embrace like bears, then take off in opposite directions. I have read that it’s best to follow one actor for as long as possible, so I go chasing after Lady Macbeth.
She goes to a room with a bathtub. The water is slightly murky, and the platform with the tub on it is covered with pieces of paper, letters to Lady Macbeth. I bend down to read one (They met me in the day of success…), and when I look back up, Lady Macbeth is gone.
I go downstairs, or upstairs, and find myself in a passageway with storefronts. I am exploring one of them, a sewing room, when a thin, anxious-looking man dashes in and starts rifling through his accounts book. Suddenly he spins on his heel and gazes frantically at something on the other side of the window. He slams the door to the shop and bars it, then goes to each of the windows, peers out of them, and slams them shut too. Outside, one of the audience members rattles the door. Ignoring this, the anxious man runs into an adjacent room, anoints his palms with ash, and begins murmuring prayers under his breath.
I follow him and put a finger into the ash, to see if it feels like Ash Wednesday ash. (It does.) The thin man takes my palms and puts ashes on each of them; he clasps my hands together and begins murmuring further prayers. He rushes to a drawer and pulls out two small charms on strings. He untangles one, a golden cross, and puts it around his neck; then untangles the other, a golden half moon, and puts it on me. As I am inspecting it, he catches sight of something outside the window, and he immediately runs out of the room and locks it behind him.
Wait, am I allowed to unbar the door of the other room? My hands are covered in ashes. Won’t I get ashes on the door? I wish I could chase after possibly-Malcolm, but he’s long gone. That’s okay. I’ll wander. I unbar the door very carefully, and I am greeted by a sea of white-masked faces. They have no idea why I barred the door. I’m such a failure at following actors.
I wander to a different floor and find myself in a hospital ward. In one room is an office with case files and many books about female hysteria. There is a padded room, covered in feathers, and a room with two rows of hospital beds. One of the bedside table drawers contains a potato and a mandrake.
I slam it shut. I am unironically petrified of mandrakes.
As I am closing the drawer, I catch sight of the man who operated the elevator. He may be First Murderer. Or Banquo. Or one of the witches. I follow him, anticipating which exit he’s going to take and which direction he’s going to take. I don’t even have to run to keep up. Hooray for me! Something pivotal is going to happen and I’m going to see it because I’m the champion following person! Now I’m winning the play!
The tall man goes into a large room full of tables and instruments, and begins wiping down tables. I test the drums to see if they are real (yes), try to pick up the trumpet (attached to the piano), and tap a few piano keys to see if it’s real (no). While I’m doing this, Lady Macbeth has come in and sat down at one of the tables. She is putting in a pair of black gloves, slowly, a reverse Gilda.
Suddenly she looks up at me.
She comes down off the stage, still straightening her gloves. Someone in the audience steps on someone else’s foot, and there is a small cry of pain. Lady Macbeth tilts her head to one side – does she hear something? – then looks back at me. She steps forward, presses a kiss into my mask and, swishing her long skirt behind her, sashays out into the hall where the storefronts are.
She trails one black-gloved finger across a window. Inside, a thin, anxious man glances up. He dashes out into the passageway and locks the door to the room he was just in. Lady Macbeth smiles at him, and he dashes away down the hall to get away from her. I follow but lose him on the stairs and end up in the Macduff house. There is a room with at least twenty-five headless baby dolls dangling from the ceiling. Another room has a bed with a baby doll on it, and a mirror on the wall. Wondering whether Lady Macbeth left lipstick prints on my mask, I go over to the mirror to check.
My reflection is ghostly, barely there. As I squint to see my mask, my eye catches a blood spot on the bed. How did they do that, just when my back was turned? I spin around to see the child’s bed. No blood. But it’s there in the mirror.
The door rattles, and Lady Macduff comes running in, heavily pregnant, tearing apart the stomach of a teddy bear. She goes into the Macduff parlor, where she is joined by Macduff in a disheveled suit. Lady Macduff displays a worrying affinity for scrambling up on high shelves and suspending herself there like Spiderman; Macduff likes to haul her off of them by her ankles. It is either a dance representation of an extremely angry fight, or extremely angry sex.
After they make up, they get dressed for a ball and head downstairs for it. I lose them again in the crowd of white-masked audience members. I find myself in a cold graveyard with scores of white crosses and an empty perambulator. It is spooky. I walk into the next part of the graveyard, with crumbling stone walls and a smallish fountain. As I explore, I get a small, creepy feeling that there is someone standing behind me. I’m used to this by now because there are always audience members nearby. But when I turn, I see a lifesize stone woman. She’s pointing straight at me.
I flee. You would flee too. It is damn scary. The room I flee into is the room with the bathtub and the letters; but now the water in the bathtub is a dark, cloudy blood-red. The whole business is deeply unsettling, and when I glance back into the graveyard through the glass walls of the bathtub room, I can still see the stone woman pointing at me. Is she closer than she was before?
(don’t blink, don’t even blink)
Escaping from this, I find myself in some sort of strobe-lit bacchanal. The dancers wear dresses that are in severe danger of falling off them; or animal heads and nothing else. Back in the passageway with the storefronts, the tall man from the elevator pounds on a barred door. He slides sideways and stares into the window to the left of the door until the window’s shutters are slammed against him. Another actor appears, and the two of them engage in a ferocious wall-climbing fight that looks genuinely dangerous. I am concerned they will fall to their deaths.
Speaking of which—
You’ll know if you see it.
I should say that this isn’t even a fraction of all the things I saw. There are dozens of rooms: an apothecary, a taxidermist shop, plenty of storage rooms, an early twentieth-century living room with an elegant telephone and rolltop desk. There are bewildering scenes: a Mrs. Danvers character makes Lady Macduff beg for a milky liquid; Lady Macbeth unlocks a dinner plate, spits out a gold ring, and lip-synchs “Is That All There Is?”; the tall elevator man sews something into the ripped-open belly of a teddy bear and puts it on the bed of a dead child; a tall slim woman gets tossed about like a rag doll before peeling off her hair to reveal a completely bald head.
Teresa from Shelf Love came to Sleep No More with me and saw an entirely different batch of scenes. When we found each other again at the end of the play (play? Dance production? Immersive theater experience?), we were startled to find how little overlap there was between what she saw and what I saw. But we agreed it was magical.