Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Travelogue, Part IV

(Yes, I skipped III - that was yesterday's post, it just deserved a bit nicer title.)

Today was mostly uneventful, except I didn't know until about 4:00 p.m. where I'd be sleeping--this week is actually two separate training sessions--one ended today, and a new one starts tomorrow.  Quite a few people are taking both, and it's what the company recommends, in fact.  Anyway, the hotel it has been in is under construction, and they were doing the construction right outside the windows of the conference room we were in, right during the hours we were using it (doesn't bother me on the 35th floor at midnight, which is when I've been going to bed lately, unfortunately).  The conference guys were actually trying to ask the hotel to ask the (union) workers to not work during the conference, which worked about as well as you might imagine.  So they worked it out that the Thursday-Friday session will be at a whole different hotel, across town and up a few blocks, right near Times Square.  But I had this show to go to tonight, and wasn't keen on packing, moving my stuff, and having to check in there at the same time as 20 other people and still make it to the show on time.  So I asked if I could move Thursday instead.  I also reminded the person arranging everything that I'm staying through Sunday morning, and asked if the new hotel would honor that, too, and she had to check into all that, and hence I didn't know until late this afternoon whether I had to pack up and move today, or if it could wait till tomorrow.  Luckily it's tomorrow. I came up to my room, did NOT pack frantically, and gathered what I would need for my evening adventure.  I'd already dressed casually with comfortable shoes, as instructed.  They also recommend you not bring any coat or bags, as you will have to check them (for $3).  So I put my drivers' license, credit card, room key, and metro card into a "secret" pocket in my pants (well, not very secret, but it buttons shut and would be hard to pickpocket OR have stuff fall out of), taking care to keep the magnetic areas away from each other.  I brought chapstick, my cell phone, and the "reservation" for the show in my normal pockets, and that was it.  No big fancy camera, no purse, no map (have a couple versions in my phone).  I used my handy-dandy iPhone app for the subway system--in addition to a normal color-coded map, they also have a feature where you plug in the stations you want to go from and to, whether you want the fastest, easiest, etc., route, and what time of day it is, and click find, and it tells you what route to take, including color coding.  There isn't a straight shot from here to there, which is I why I used this function, and indeed, it told me to take the green line south (downtown) to Union Square, then take the grey line east to the end of the line at 14th/8th, then back north (uptown) on the blue line.  They have actual numbers/letters, too, but since my routes have been in the sections they share, it doesn't matter--just follow the colored dots in the subway stations.  I've actually done really well with the subways, between common sense, map reading, and this app.  I lucked out today, too, with arriving on foot to see a train waiting for me, and express trains when that was possible.  Woo!  So my commute to the play was easy.

Oops...getting ahead of myself a bit.  I needed to refill my metro card, so I went to the kiosk and followed the steps, and it wouldn't read my credit card.  I realized then that I'd forgotten my hotel key isn't just a magnetic stripe.  It has a chip of some kind, you just pass it in front of this big button-looking thing on the door, instead of swiping it or doing the push/pull thing.  I was worried I'd demagnetized my credit card, and of course didn't have ANY other payment methods with me, and once again needed to worry whether my checking account balance would even pay for this trip (they have my credit card on file at this hotel, but not sure if they'll need it again to charge me when I check out, and the next hotel will certainly want it).  Luckily, I moved over a kiosk and it worked.  Whew!  I put my hotel key into one of my unsecured pockets, far away.  I figured worst case, I'd have to show my ID at the hotel to get them to let me in my room (where I have another key, since they gave me two).

Anyway, got to Chelsea, and had to walk 2 1/2 long blocks plus four short blocks.  It was a nice walk, again, it seems like a nice neighborhood.  I passed row houses with actual FRONT YARDS.  With bushes and a little path to their steps and everything!

I needed to eat, but I like to GET to where I'm going, then look for a place to eat where I know the timeframe I have to work with, so I'd purposely waited until I got to the neighborhood.  I saw a Thai place, and Thai food sounded good, so I went for it.  I had Phad Garlic tofu.  Mmmmm...

Then I wandered a bit, saw an Argentinian restaurant and decided to have dessert, too.  I had chocolate mousse with a fresh strawberry and raspberry on top.  Mnmmmm....

My "reservation" was for 7:45, but I headed there at 7:30, and barely waited until I was let in with a group of other people.  The schtick is that they're pretending it's a hotel, but really it's a made over warehouse.  So you have a "reservation," they have the "baggage" check (coats and bags), then you "check in" and they hand you a "room key" (really a playing card, which I believe denotes what time your "reservation" was for, as apparently you're welcome to show up early and hang out in the bar...but I'm getting ahead of myself again.  So the hallway to the "check in" counter is pretty dark, and oddly echo-y, but not too big a deal.

Oh, and I guess at some point, I should warn people...if you think you'll come to this show (Sleep No More in NYC), then I recommend you don't actually read the reviews (much, or at all if you can stand it) on places like Yelp, and don't read the rest of my post, either.  There are a few things you need to know, like wear comfortable shoes/clothes, contacts instead of glasses if you can, and when you see an actor walking/running by, follow them unless you're really enthralled with what you're doing.  Okay, NOW go away if you don't want to be "spoiled" because I'm not going to hold back.

Okay, where was I?  Okay, you "check in," and they point you to a stairway and tell you to go up and up and you'll know where to go.  So I climbed the stairs.  It got darker and darker.  At the top of the stairs, the path was delineated by velvet curtains with VERY dim lights in SOME of the corners, such that you could usually determine your next turn, but a couple of places, it was PITCH black.  Then all of a sudden you were in the lobby area of a bar, and were greeted and welcomed in by people in character for the 20s/30s.  There was nice music playing, and beautiful women (and a couple men) welcoming you in and inviting you to drink.  They had absinthe, and I decided I should try it.  How often do you get the chance?  They took my credit card and said they'd start a tab and I could get the card back when I cashed out at the end of the night.  Okay.  The absinthe smelled like black licorice, but luckily didn't taste much like it...very herbal.  I'd only had a few sips when they called people with cards Ace, Two, or Three (I had a Two, so I guess I could have shown up even earlier and been ushered in right away...oops!).  I tossed back the rest of the absinthe, almost tossed it back up, and followed the throng.  We were ushered into a small room, given masks, and told we must wear them the entire time, and from this point on, we could not talk.  We also couldn't hold hands, but since I'd come there alone, I didn't really plan to hold hands with random strangers anyway, so no biggie.  Of course, there had to be "that" couple, that still kept talking intermittently, and had to be reminded a few times.  Wonder if they were the same people who got shushed by staff a time or two, too.  Ah, yes, so all the "audience" was wearing white masks with a beak-like appendage (but it allowed for easier mouth-breathing (my nose was pinched off by the nose of the mask anyway), and eating (more on that later)), the staff were wearing black masks, and were also silent (unless they had to shush people, apparently) and were there mostly to prevent issues, keep you from going into an area you didn't belong (either permanently or temporarily due to the acts), or help with ushering people around out of the way of the action during an act.  Lastly, the actors were NOT wearing masks, so it was pretty easy to determine who they were.

I had read lots of reviews and been "spoiled," so I was on the lookout for a few things during the play, and managed to see all of them.  I think I also saw all the rooms, though probably not all the acts, because I found myself seeing the same acts over and over as they repeated.

Anyway, from the room with the masks, we were ushered into another "room," which was actually an elevator.  The doors opened and the elevator man ushered the group out the door, except he stepped in the way after a few people had passed, separating a twosome from each other (probably the ones who were talking), which they were NOT happy about).  It stopped two more times.  I'd heard if you could arrange to be the last one on the elevator, you would get let out onto a floor by yourself and see an act one-on-one with the actor, but alas, even though I hung back, I got let out with the last ten or so people.  It was dim (the WHOLE night, throughout the WHOLE place, with very few exceptions), but not dark.  The experience would have been a whole lot scarier if I hadn't read the reviews promising that while it has a haunted house feel, and some creepy elements, there are NO people (or things) jumping out at you--the "scariness" is entirely psychological.  And that's true.  I like creepy and scary and weird, just not being startled, and there was only one time I was scared the whole time, and it didn't turn out to be scary.

Pretty much right away, I saw an actor run by.  I'd heard the advice I gave above, to follow, so I did.  He ran up the stairs.  I think I'd been let out on the third floor, and the actor ran up and up and up, possibly to the sixth floor, I wasn't keeping good track.  Every time I tried to access the sixth floor later, though, it had a chain across it and a staff member guarding it, not sure if that was the case the whole evening, or if I was just unlucky.  Anyway, I was running out of steam, and fell behind a bit, and sure enough, the actor went through a door and it slammed, and was locked.  I had to go through the door that wasn't locked, and he wasn't behind it.  Whatever, I saw plenty throughout the night.

So yeah, basically imagine a psychological-but-not-startling haunted house to the HILT.  Six-plus floors, rooms upon rooms upon rooms, with various "themes."  The fifth floor was hospital themed, and had a ward of beds as well as a ward of bathtubs.  There was a child's room with a bed with a teddy bear on it, but when you looked in the mirrors in the room, they showed the "reflected" room had a bed with a bloody child in it.  (I'd been spoiled on that, so pointed it out to some people, silently.  They didn't get it at first, so I pointed to the mirror, then to the actual bed.  Then again, THEN they finally saw it.)  There was a room with tons of dolls hanging from the ceiling.  Quite a few Catholic-themed shrines or whatever you want to call them.  A TON of taxidermy, some rooms full of it, some more subtle.  There was an entire room full of pheasants hanging all around.  There was also a room with a winter woodland forest, a "room" that was meant to be a cemetery, an outdoor courtyard, quite a few bedrooms, some bathrooms (presumably operational, but I didn't test them out), libarary-type rooms, a candy store (I'd heard of it online, and people seemed to be hinting that there was something cool about being able to eat the candy, so I presumed some sort of clue or something, but I ate some candy and didn't "get it," but hey, my mouth had been dry, so it solved that problem).  Like I said, I'd heard about the candy store online, so when it seemed to be time for the thing to wind down, I started looking in earnest, and started at the top floor all over again, poking into places I hadn't been (or thought I hadn't been), until FINALLY, not a moment too soon, I found the candy store just before the finale.  Like I said, though, it didn't seem all that important.  Guess people just thought it was cool to eat the "props."

Anyway, so yeah, imagine the coolest haunted house EVER.  Oh, and part of it is like a hotel, with a front desk, maintenance man's office, etc., and even a basement (with a morgue?  or did that table just happen to be handy for laying a dead person on?  It didn't always make SENSE, mind you.)  But unlike most haunted houses, this is a totally elaborate setup, with a TON of details, and when being realistic won't work, they create it (they had "dust" that was actually glued on or something, so you couldn't just wipe it away on accident).  And you can touch anything and everything.  They didn't explicitly say that, but I'd read it online.  And people seemed to take it seriously, touching and snooping, but yet respect it, and replace things the way they found them.

However, the one downside is that in all my reading, it seemed that there wasn't much of a "plot," and snooping didn't have much point to it, other than admiring how cool it all was.  You wouldn't really find clues that would help you solve a mystery.  Maybe if you REALLY followed the story, and REALLY searched for clues, they might fill in details, but it really doesn't matter.  It'd be SOOOooo cool if a company this devoted could have taken it that extra step and made it so that snooping had some sort of reward--a murder mystery with a really high production value.  Obviously, you couldn't make it necessary to find every clue in order to figure anything out, but even if the action revealed it all by the end, maybe the clues could help you know "who done it" just a little sooner, or tell you "who done" some other crime not crucial to the plot, or SOMETHING.

Anyway, so even without any live actors, the experience was pretty cool.  But there WERE live actors.  And how cool is it to be there, with live action going on, and you're RIGHT THERE.  We audience members often had to step out of the way (some of the scenes, the staff would position you to be out of the way, but others, you just crowded around to watch, and if the actors needed you to move, they'd just take your elbow and move you, or wave the crowd away).

So, some of the scenes I saw.  And yes, I'd been warned there was nudity, and oh, there was.  I saw a guy walk into the cemetery, dig a small hole, and bury a doll's arm in it, and say a little prayer over it.  Then I saw Lady MacBeth (this play is loosely based around MacBeth, and also a couple of Hitchcock movies I haven't seen and didn't have time to Netflix before coming) doing a dance around the bathtub, then Mr. MacBeth came in all bloody and got in the bath.  There was full frontal nudity for some of the crowd (theater in the round right up close), but it was pretty discrete rear-end nudity from where I was standing.  Then he got out of the bath and into the bed, then finally put some clothes back on.  I forget who I followed then, and whether I followed them all the way or just wandered in randomly, but the next scene I saw was the "orgy" scene that all the reviews said you had to make sure to see.  It had techno music, and a few actors dancing.  Oh, I forgot to mention--there's very little speaking in this performance, and in fact much of the vocalization is nonsense sounds--there were only a few words of actual English spoken, that I caught anyway.  Most of it is dance only, with the occasional choreographed fight and very few speaking parts, like I said.

Anyway, the orgy.  Yeah, I walked into the room (set up like a bar) and there was a couple kissing at a table, but soon a woman with a shaved head joined in, then there was a naked guy with a goat head.  Then the room went black, and strobe lights started.  First very slowly (where you couldn't see except every couple of seconds, and only a glimpse, so it wasn't even to the point of being herky-jerky like you think of with strobe lights), then it sped up little by little.  The women's dresses ended up down to their waists, and the guy stayed naked the whole time.  Not quite sure what it meant or represented, but it was very intense, and kind of cool, in any case.

At some point, I saw a choreographed fight scene, which was kind of cheesy seeing it that close up and how obvious it was that it was choreographed, but what are you going to do--the show goes on like eight times a week or something, so they can't actually beat each other up.  :-)  There was a pregnant woman I followed a while, but I couldn't quite get what her "story" was, so I followed her so long trying to find out whether she would ever give birth to the baby (there was a bloody baby in the MacBeth scene earlier I forgot to mention, and clearly dead/maimed babies were a theme, what with the decor in some of the rooms), but she just kept dancing and crying and dancing, so I wandered away after a while.  There were a couple of lover's quarrel / jealousy scenes, and a dentist/butcher/taxidermist person who was very intently looking at stuff, then examining audience members (to see if they had wings?  birds and feathers also were a big theme...and eggs).  There was a hotel employee who wandered off, a few of us followed, and he went to the maintenance office and made a paper hat/boat, then left it there.  Not sure what that was about.  See, that's the thing...even HAVING recently read the SparkNotes to MacBeth, there were a couple of scenes that were obviously about MacBeth, but plenty were not so obvious, and also weren't obviously about ANYTHING.  Maybe if you were better about following just one actor?  But from the reviews I've read, it just seems that between the lack of speaking, and how hard it is to see one story completely through, let alone piece them all together in the order the supposedly occurred, it's hard to "get" this play.  So I went into it with the mindset that I would just enjoy the experience, and not worry about plot or story or anything, and that's exactly what I did.  But if you went in expecting a story, and a plot, and a build-up, climax, and resolution, you'd be very disappointed.  It's literally wandering around a VERY elaborate set, and wandering into very intimate theater, but it's very disjointed and also very...esoteric?

Anyway, I also saw a scene where they discovered a man dead (not sure how he died--I managed to miss that part), and carried him to the aforementioned "morgue" or whatever.  I thought about sticking around to see the actor come back to life, but figured a staff member would just usher us out rather than let us witness that, so I didn't bother.  At some point, I found myself on the second floor, watching a ball on the first floor, and most of the actors dancing with each other, except the guy I was standing next to.  I think that was also straight out of MacBeth.  Hmm...I think that about covers all the scenes I saw, except the finale.

I think I mentioned above, but I kept stumbling into scenes I'd already seen before, and I wanted to see different stuff, so I'd wander off and go looking for stuff, then end up in a scene I'd already seen before again.  So I'm guessing I must've cycled through the floors in roughly the same order or something, and probably missed stuff at the top of the "hotel" while I was at the bottom (multiple different times) and vice versa, but oh well.

Oh, I just remembered the one "scary" moment.  So sometimes the floors, while large, were laid out fairly logically, and it was pretty easy to find your way around (there were two stairwells, one at either end of the building, labeled 3W (for third floor, west end), for example.  However, some of the areas with lots of smaller rooms got pretty labyrinthine, so it was fun to explore.  I was on a floor I'd been to a couple times, but found a new area, because the door was kind of in a dark alcove, and I happened to see some other people go in there.  Nothing too exciting (the room at the end of that "maze" had a bunch of pans with dirt and bird wings half-buried in them, plus candles).  But as I was leaving, I saw an area that went off to the side.  It was dark, so I couldn't tell how far back it went.  I reached out my hand, and didn't feel the end.  I stepped into the blackness, and still couldn't feel the end.  Oh well...I wandered off.  But now I was curious about that area, and how far back it went (the parallel hallway was LONG, and I could tell it was possible for that room to be very deep).  So I went back and started deeper into the blackness.  And that's where I was nervous.  I was afraid there WAS going to be something scary back there to startle me, a person lurking in the shadows or something.  I chickened out again and went back to the light.  Then, bolstered with courage due to the anonymity of the masks, I found a stranger who seemed to be wandering alone (not one of the many couples who were clinging to each other the whole time), tapped his shoulder, and beckoned for him to follow me.  I was hoping he'd be more curious than I was, and would venture in first.  No luck.  He followed me a bit, then wandered off, leaving me deeper in the blackness than I'd been yet.  Finally I chickened out and turned on my cell phone (we were instructed to turn them completely off before entering).  Turns out it was a long rectangular room with a chair in it, and a light fixture hanging so low above it as to be impractical, and that was it.  It was centered, so when I was clinging to the wall, I hadn't bumped it.  I also hadn't QUITE reached the end of the room, but almost.  I have no idea if they perform a scene in there, or if it's just there and meant to be black.

Oh yeah, so it's not just dim lighting the whole time.  They totally use the lighting just as they would on an actual stage, to spotlight action, hide things you shouldn't see, and highlight things you should.  It just always varying shades of dim light, instead of super bright.  But I wandered through the same rooms quite a few different times, and they looked different each time due to the lighting.  And then when the actors would appear and do a scene, the lighting would highlight them at the right moments.  There was also music piped in throughout the entire place, and it often corresponded with the action during scenes, and was just good background music when there weren't any actors around.

I'm probably forgetting a ton of stuff, but I guess I'll have to supplement this post tomorrow if so, because it's already 1:00 a.m. here.  Okay, so I knew the time was nearing the end (it ends at 10:30), but they did make it pretty natural to have all the audience end up gathered in one spot together.  Even if you didn't know going in, you quickly gather that following an actor is better than just letting them wander away and not knowing when you'll see more "action."  So when all the actors end up in one place, so does the audience.  But also, I think they had the "staff" block off lower and lower floors, and probably even (especially toward the very end) sweep looking for people.  I'd actually seen the beginning of the finale scene earlier, but they didn't finish it, of course, just kind of wandered off.  They're having a banquet on a big raised "stage" area in the ballroom where the dancing also had been.  The actors are all acting in slow motion, drinking and kissing and slapping each other.  Some of them have blood on them.  Then most of the actors kind of fade into the background, and just three men are left on the stage.  A fourth actor wanders over to a rope and lowers a noose.  One of the actors on the "stage" places the noose around the other guy's neck (MacBeth?) and also not-so-discreetly hooks a line attached to it onto the actor's harness, and there's a bit more dancing resulting in the about-to-be-hanged actor standing on a chair on the stage, then in a rage, he kicks off the chair and swings out over the audience, and it goes dark.  We're all shuffled back into the bar where the whole thing began.

And now there are 200 people in the bar, and everyone needs to cash out at the same time.  Why did I agree to that scheme?  Luckily, there was a singer who was quite good, so it was fairly nice to wait around, though a bit stuffy.  I checked out, then even hung around a while longer to wait for the next band to start and stand in the breeze from the AC.  But it was 11:00, and I still needed to take my convoluted subway route home (I checked the app, changing it to evening instead of rush hour, but it still recommended the same route back).

The walk back to the subway was nice.  It was weird, though, I was relatively alone at the beginning of my walk, then as I got closer to the subway station, there were THRONGS of people (on both sides of the road) all heading the same direction.  It wasn't from the play I was at (we got to keep our masks, and these people didn't have any), so I don't know if some other event was also ending, or what.  The subway ride home was nearly as uneventful, though I did have to wait a while at one stop.  It's just so miserably HOT in those stations.  Hotter and humider than Bangkok (city or subway), I'm pretty sure.  Ugh.  So I arrived back in my hotel room, cranked the AC down to 65, and parked myself in its path.  I'm cooler now, though, and need to get to bed, so I'm turning it back up and doing just that.  Oh, and my feet and legs are tired from all those stairs--four subway stations plus a six-story "hotel" I explored on foot for three hours, then four more subway stations, plus lots of blocks of just plain walking...  Man, I'm going to be tired AND sore tomorrow, and will have to lug my suitcase like a mile.  Maybe I'll take a cab...

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