Once you start living in New York City, you discover an insidious disease that gradually creeps into your psyche. It's something most aren't proud of, but no one can deny that it becomes a part of their day-to-day life: You become a voyeur.
Sharing a tight space with 8.3 million other people makes it inevitable. You can't help but stare at the 200 people who share your subway care at 5 p.m. each day. Your apartment window backs up not to just one or two other apartment windows, but dozens of them. Most are open, and most have people wandering back and forth in front of them, in various stages of undress and obviousness. The old Friends character of Ugly Naked Guy was no accident. It's amazing what you can see just looking out your back window.
With that in mind, there's a theater experience currently available in New York that allows you to take your voyeurism to the next level -- to celebrate it, hone it, and spend an evening reveling in it.
Set in a warehouse that has been built up to represent an old Victorian hotel in the 1930s, attendees first wend their way through dark corridors to a lounge, where a smoky atmosphere and haunting singers channeling a mix of "Putting On The Ritz" and David Lynch entertain until you're called to the elevators. I had the unnerving pleasure of attending Sleep No More last fall. While the performance is almost impossible to adequately describe, I'll make an effort.
You're directed to put on bizarre white masks and told you may not speak as you wander the "McKittrick Hotel." Please don't touch the actors, they say. Other than that, there are no rules. You're welcome to wander the multiple floors of the hotel at will. You can touch props, pick up books and read them, look over actors' shoulders at things they write or leave behind.
The performance is loosely based on MacBeth, but it's not linear. You can follow individual actors as they wander the halls, confront other characters and either make love to them, fight with them, or even bathe with them. Yes, fans, many of the actors perform nude for short parts of the show.
Lewis Grizzard famously noted that "nude" means you have no clothes on, and "nekked" means you have no clothes on and you're up to something. These actors are definitely up to something.
But it's not the performance that's unsettling. It's the fact that you're an anonymous witness to it. Safely hidden behind a plastic mask, you live an Eyes Wide Shut experience, safe to do what you wish within the boundaries, with no consequences. You can rifle through people's papers. You can stare at two naked people in a bathtub washing blood off each other. You get to watch a bar brawl without having to get involved. You're present, but not culpable or accountable. And since you can't talk to those you came with, there's no one to help you process it or dismiss it.
The hillbilly in me wanted to dismiss the idea before attending as "Cousin Clem's Haunted House on Steroids." Having spent two hours roaming through the McKittrick Hotel, it's far more than that.