Our last full day here required a bit of a slow morning to stave off some residual effects of our debauchery from the night before. By the time we got started, we decided to seek out some more Italian for lunch.
And, as I indicated in my last post, you really can’t get Italian in Minneapolis like you can in New York. I mean, the food is actually made by Italians from Italy, and it’s absolutely wonderful. The little sampling we got at yesterday’s visit to Via della pace, was quite the most wonderful prelude to the risotto we enjoyed at Risotteria Melotti right at 309 East 5th Street in the East Village. Their website indicates that they are the home of the best Italian risotto, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. If memory serves, I believe I ordered the Limone e gamberi (that’s risotto with lemon and shrimp), and it was a delicately creamy affair but not by any means heavy like some kind of alfredo dish you might get at, ehrm, Olive Garden.
(Sorry, just needed a moment to calm my gag reflex after thinking about alfredo sauce at Olive Garden. And I think I just committed a mortal sin by mentioning Olive Garden while talking about Risotteria Melotti.)
The restaurant itself is rustically Old World with dense wooden tables, exposed brick walls, yet all brightly lit with tall windows. Our server was delightfully pleasant as she struggled ever so slightly to find the right words to describe the foods, and I found myself having to pay extra attention to everything she said, as her accent was just heavy enough that the words weren’t readily accessible.
You can read more about the Melotti family history on their website, but in short, the Melotti family are, apparently, famous in Italy, and having a risotteria in New York is their dream come true.
(Annoyingly, however, they are one of those places that boasts an entirely gluten-free menu, and I just hate that craze, because so many people think they are sensitive to gluten when I think in reality they just want to be sensitive to gluten so they can say, “Oh, I’m on a gluten-free diet, and it’s done me wonders.” It’s so stupid!)
Anyway, following a glorious lunch (despite the fact that it was gluten-free), we made our way to Hotel Chelsea in, er, Chelsea, mainly because I wanted to see the hotel where Sid Vicious died. In addition to Vicious himself, the hotel was also home to many other famous writers, musicians, actors, and artists like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Iggy Pop, Arthur C. Clarke, Allen Ginsburg, among others. The building is quite gorgeous: a red brick exterior with elaborate wrought iron balconies. Currently, it’s closed for renovations, and the hotel will re-open in 2016.
The hotel was a stop on our way to the High Line, a public park built on an old freight railway. As it’s on an old railway, the park is generally quite narrow, but wide enough and long enough (it runs from 14th Street to 34th Street on the west side of the island) to accommodate the hundreds of visitors that were sharing the park with us. The High Line itself is really quite neat. I just love these reclaimed urban spaces, prettying up something that was once disused. Visitors make their way past trees, shrubs, flowers, and other greenery while walking on pathways of wood planks or stone. There are also areas with wooden sun chairs where you can recline and watch people, a wider section that is covered where you can purchase food and drink while encountering Tibetan monks asking for money to support some temple somewhere (I couldn’t really understand him), and on occasion there was some art, an installation of yellow heads placed in a geometric structure of iron (Rashid Johnson’s Blocks) or a quite colorful mural recreating that famous photograph of a sailor kissing a woman (Eduardo Kobra’s mural of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo, VJ Dyay, The Kiss).
In general, the High Line was quite nice, but for some reason I felt it was hyped a little bit for me, so I left feeling just slightly disappointed by the experience. Even still, I adore the project and I love the idea, and do go visit, but just remember that you’re basically gonna just go to an elevated green space that occasionally has art.
Following the High Line, we needed to waste a bit of time before we headed to our last night of theatre, so we got some cocktails and snacks at a place called Porchlight, a bar that boasts Southern cuisine and drinks, located just a block west of the High Line in between 27th and 28th Streets on 11th Avenue, where we enjoyed a plate called the Southern Spread (smoked catfish dip, tasso, smoked cheddar, pickled grapes, preserves, benne seed crackers), some Tom’s Balls (deep fried balls of rice, chicken liver, pork, and trinity), some freshly baked cookies, and some fancy cocktails that I can’t remember the names of and their menu online isn’t helping to jog my memory, so I can’t share with you all the glorious details. I do remember the cocktails being quite good, but having enjoyed some real Southern cuisine in New Orleans meant that no matter how how this place tried, there wasn’t a hope they could even come close to a pseudo representation of real Southern cuisine of even the most dimly semi-good approximation of an attempt.
Unfortunately, a dimly semi-good approximation of an attempt somewhat prepared us for another dimly semi-good approximation of an attempt, except that when I say dimly semi-good approximation of an attempt, I mean the worst night of theatre you will ever experience EVER.
Mark my words, Punchdrunk’s production of Sleep No More was just so, so disappointing on so many levels I just don’t no where to begin, but I shall try.
Let’s first put things into perspective. Our first night in NYC saw us venture out to Brooklyn to enjoy Then She Fell by Third Rail Projects, a wonderfully enjoyable evening of immersive theatre. What Third Rail did was take what little works about Sleep No More, and then improve on it immensely. The She Fell involved a small audience of 15 people, and everyone moved about from room-to-room at the direction of the actors. We were invited to unlock chests and hutches, flip through books, take dictation, respond to questions, partake in small eats and drinks, and imitate the choreography. Since we all moved about the hospital in small groups, everyone got to see every single scene of the play. Everything was wonderfully coordinated, carefully organized, and splendidly acted. The only criticisms I had was that the music was repetitiously boring and distracting, and the choreography wasn’t always executed with the care and precision I would have expected.
Sleep No More, however, is an awful mess of a production. I went in expecting the same level of careful detail that Third Rail provided, and I was anticipating that our interactions with the actors might in some may influence the evening. How wrong I was.
The whole play takes placed in the fictional McKittrick Hotel, which was built in 1939, which happened to be bad timing because World War II started, so reservations dried up, and the McKittrick had to close its doors along with many other hotels in New York. In reality, the space is an old warehouse dressed to resemble a hotel, a hospital, a creepy basement with stone statues, among other rooms. As you enter, you are asked to put on masks to hide your identity (this, no doubt, to make it easier to distinguish between audience and actor), and the masks clearly resembled what we saw in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which then recalled the voyeurism that film explored, so we, too, become voyeurs into the action in this hotel.
Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, it all goes terribly wrong…
As the evening started, I wandered from room-to-room, opening desk drawers, flipping through books and photo albums, and interacting with other various props like a doll house, stone statues, and a coffin. The set design is actually quite marvelous, and it’s the one thing about Sleep No More I actually appreciated. However, as I explored each room (I came across an album containing pictures of dead people from the Victorian era, when they would take pictures of dead people because it was probably the only photo they could afford for a single person’s lifetime, and wanted something to remember them by), I noticed that all the other audience members were in a terrible rush. I would be the only person in a room, for example, that had a bed, a dollhouse, and a giant mirror, for instance, and I would be opening drawers and handling the props (why else would they bother with all this detail if not to let us explore?), but then someone would peak their head in, dart their eyes about, and then leave. I was left wondering, “What’s their rush? Don’t they want to find something fascinating in these drawers?”
Soon, 45 minutes went by, and I didn’t see a single scene of the play, so I started to wander about more quickly to see what could be going wrong. Why was nothing I was doing causing a scene of events to occur like in Then She Fell?
It was then that I realized that our interactions with the props had nothing to do with anything, and I had wasted so much time (and about $31 of my $85 ticket). Eventually, I finally came across a scene that involved a bathtub with dirty water and a nurse who sat down, read a little note, placed it on the tap, and then left. Meanwhile, a group of 40 audience members or so are desperately trying to watch the action. When the nurse leaves, so too left with her this group of 40 people, scrambling to follow her, like a group of lemmings disguised as impatient wildebeests.
Later I came across another scene that involved a bartender and some other people, and I don’t even care about the details anymore. I think there was a pool table as well. And something happened that involved two men fighting. Or something.
But then all these anxious, mask-wearing people were also around me, nervously and quickly walking about, making sure they get to see all the action. The actors leave, and then with them this large group of people also follow them. It was so distracting, and I was unable to appreciate anything because everyone else was just so nervously and anxiously making sure they also got to see everything.
But it is impossible to see everything, because it’s all such a terrible hodgepodge of nothing happening at all. Just people not speaking, moving about, taking things out of drawers, putting them back in, staring at each other, leaving rooms, entering rooms, performing some kind of pseudo-choreography, leaving again, putting stuff back. I think there was music happening, too, but it was so immemorable.
Also, somehow this was all based on MacBeth, incidentally, but I think they’re just saying that so that they appear intelligent.
Before long, we were all forced down to a giant open area with a long table (I never got to see two entire floors of the warehouse because apparently my attention span is too long), and all the actors are seated at the table in the style of The Last Supper. Then one of the actors gets hung by a noose.
And to think they had the audacity to offer programs of the show as you exit the warehouse, but only if you pay $25. For $85, I would expect those for free, and I would also expect at least a free drink or two.
No. None of that.
The whole evening was such a horrible experience.
DO NOT GO SEE THIS SHOW!
It was the MOST HORRIBLE theatre experience I have ever had the misfortune to attend.
AND I WANT MY MONEY BACK!
Afterwards, we lamented the whole evening at the Olive Tree, the bar right next to the Comedy Cellar, then attended one last night of transcendent comedy.
So, there you have it. A thoroughly disappointing evening that felt like I wandered into a kind of haunted house for kids that happened to have some actors moving about in it. And apparently, among other things, I missed a scene that involved two naked men. That must’ve been why everyone was wandering about so anxiously. “Where are the naked men? I need to see the naked men! I paid $85 to see naked men!”
At long last, my final post on my NYC trip (which, all things considered, was actually divinely fabulous, even though Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More thoroughly ruined the evening of our sixth day here), will appear before too long, hopefully sometime over this long holiday weekend.
Happy Thanksgiving, in the meantime! Please don’t go shopping today or tomorrow. It’s rather pointless.
Stray Observations (a la AVClub):
- If you want to go to Sleep No More just so see the nudity, Gawker has this handy article.
- If you want to go to Sleep No More to actually enjoy it, good luck.
- If you want to go to Sleep No More to be throoughly disappointed, you won’t be disappointed.