On a block in Chelsea devoid of nearly all advertising, at the west side edge of the world, hangs a lonely sign “Scores”, across from which is a series of large black doors and an ever growing line of sophisticated, middle aged spectators who had all signed up for the earliest time slot on this particular Tuesday evening.
A large, yet soft-spoken bouncer – in traditional security regalia of black sports jacket, black everything – is armed with one blue starred stamp and a short, bouncy sidekick on a walkie talkie – the ear piece strapped to his head.
They let us in 5-10 at a time, “good thing it’s warm out”, I thought as I took one last look down the line before I was ushered in with a handfull of strangers chatting behind me. Only a few steps beyond the door, total darkness set in, with one dim 5watt bulb hanging low in an old dusty fixture above our heads, it seemed as though it might as well have been shining darkness rather than light; I got tingle rolled down my spine. A few minutes later the line had become an exercise for my eyes, to acclimate to the deep black of the walls and the textures of indiscernible paint and concrete, plastic and metal.
Finally, arriving at the “concierge / check-in” of the hotel [venue] I was handed a playing card [10 of spades] and was told to walk to my right and make a left up the stairs.
HERE IS WHEN IT GETS CONFUSING.
By the time you reach the holding area, a smokey red velvet lined jazz lounge [sometimes] playing live music, you forget that you had just walked up X amount of flights, delivering you from the X floor to the X one. Here you listen for when your playing card is called by a crooner of a jazz lounge host, over a vintage microphone, you are ushered to the elevator by the lady of the dance floor. Then, you are handed a mask, ordered not to talk and crammed into an elevator where you will most certainly be separated from your friends. The elevator makes a random stop on either the X, X, X, or X floor, of which you have no say and no knowledge [if the liftman sees you looking at the number display he will shut it off, as I found out]. By the time you are ejected from this elevator, you realize that when everyone is wearing masks and are not allowed to speak [thus becoming anonymous] they become extremely rude, pushy and retain few physical limits when cutting you off. Granted, by now the later time slot / younger ticket holders had filtered in and mixed up the age demographic. We stampeded out of the elevator, I paused, body acclimating to the change in atmosphere.
By the damp chill in the air I could tell I was on the X floor, I walked around some bedroom chambers, a living room full of shelves, clocks and letters from Lady MacBeth. “A clue!” I thought, despite already knowing the premise. I walked in and out of tiny rooms, observing the meticulous decoration as much as I observed the other guests. When I had first imagined the scenes being interactive, my main concern had been people being too polite to ruffle through the drawers and notes. But the rapid news of such a liberally interactive installation must have spread fast, because everyone in eyesight was poking, prodding and sifting through relics like monkeys on a field trip. I circled my way through the layers of draped fabric and electric candles into a ballroom overwhelmed with the scent of pine. In the middle was a dance scene with three couples ballroom dancing in the broad sense of the term. In my corner of the floor, governess put a cloak on a young girl, then the couple hurriedly took off. I follow them; I loose track of the girl but follow the matron back up to the mezzanine of clocks, where she covers them, slowly, with cloths. I wander off to the balcony overlooking the ballroom scene I was standing on only moments ago, now on the dance floor a couple is fighting. A bald witchy woman is hissing at a man, they throw each other across the floor gracefully, landing like cats, or birds, or professional dancers. The man runs off to the side, up the stairs, across the floor – suddenly a crowd of 50 guests is hurdling themselves up the stairs trying to stay on someone’s heels. All heels are lost; I pick a doorway – and find myself on the X floor.
I see a new crowd in a corner in the room, heads bowed to peer down at something. Lady Macbeth is waiting impatiently, body contorting in spastic yet controlled, rhythmically precise movements, building with the crescendo of the song driving her madness. She balances on the edge of a bathtub before loosing her grip – her husband runs in, with blood covered hands, her back too is now stained red. She strips him nude while they embrace in a sequence of frantic kisses, intermittently pausing for his entry into the tub, his last strands of public discomfort shine in his eyes and stain his breath like pigments of hesitation. Rapidly, he rubs off the blood, then hesitantly with a staccato in his step he emerges from the tub to join his Lady; they walk back to the corner and lie down in bed. Then suddenly he sits up, jumps out of bed and leaves the room again; half the spectators follow, some stay – here the Lady rubs her hands repeating “out, out damn spot” as she throws herself violently against the walls and bed, repeatedly. I grow bored and wonder what other performances are going on as I stand glued to my spot, so I exit through the glass doors surrounding the bedroom chambers, and walk through a garden with half walls of brick and large statues of mary bathed in blue light, as I search for performances and a couple particular rooms I remember from the walk through, half of which I never do find. As I continue across the floor turns softer, and the scent of warm moist soil surrounds me. In the distance I see small mounds with white upward crosses stuck into the crests. At the end of the narrow path in the soil is an old abandoned stroller, one I would kill to have. I find my way to another staircase and climb upward.
On the X floor a scent of mulch fills my nostrils [maybe a little too much, as my tissues were coated in black upon exhausting the contents of my nose that night], enormous walls of crates and boxes unwind into a room with a pool table and a wall of 300 playing cards, many of queens, all tacked in one corner. Later, this would be the scene between two men and the bald witch, who will dance and laugh with a card between their lip-lock. The boy witch walks over, standing much too close, he urges me to move silently, seconds before the other man hurdles past and onto the wood bar with a loud thud. Two minutes later the girl on my left has her mask knocked by a stray foot in the tumultuous fray on the pool table. Another girl nearly trips over her own feet, which would have landed her face first on a wood box, trying to outrun the crowd to secure a front seat at the other end of the room to which the action has moved. The crowd is too much for me, and so I escape into rooms that are filled with black magic and dry purple flowers above my head, and others filled with musk like grandma’s. I look for an air freshener, a plug-in of sorts for at least 3minutes before I admit that if I were to find one, it would certainly not be labeled “grandma,” and that all objects, garments and fabrics in the room must contain centuries of history to smell so pungently of the past.
I wander back towards the room full of taxidermy birds, animal heads and bones as if it’s my one familiar sight in this strange massive world. The path there is a hallway of what seem to be a number of rooms and shops through wich actors move, there stands a girl with a box and a key, which a guest tries to touch and nearly gets her hand slapped. Another girl gets chosen and rushed off, pulled by her arm into a little room, to experience a solo show, a creepy lap dance of sorts with incantations and rituals I was not privy to this time around. I walk around the corner, a taxidermist’s workshop, nearby is a candy store; each room decorated and etched inch by inch to the last detail. A funeral parlor with a coffin, books, quill, ink wells and death certificates, stamped with the year 1934. And with that clue, things started to make sense. But, I have said too much already, I will leave not only the remaining X and X floors a mystery, but also the conclusion with it’s occasionally malfunctioning noose.
Folks, this is a must see. I don’t want to ruin ALL the fun and surprises so you will just have to trust me. I know here in Bushwick tickets upwards of $75 sound like less than a steal – but think of it as taking yourself on a date [yes, it’s that good]. Save your pennies, and tip cheap, cut corners, don’t cut your hair – do ANYTHING and everything to get your asses to Sleep No More. A-SAP.