Due to Bear's great proficiency with "backward planning", we left our house in plenty of time to catch the train into NYC. We sat and had a cozy cup of tea in a little shop at the station. The train was far from full when we got on, so we had a relaxing and roomy hour and something ride into Penn Station, chatting with other passengers here and there when we weren't immersed in our own conversations.
The day was bright and sunny and not so cold as to make major winter wear a necessity, which was great. I had decided not to bring anything with me that would need to be checked at the theater, other than my overcoat. I left my huge leather bucket purse at home, and just wrapped my credit card, debit card, drivers license, and some cash into a tight wad and kept it in an inside pocket of my suit jacket. It was very liberating, walking around with no huge, heavy bag banging against my hip and arse with every step.
We arrived at Penn Station with more than enough time to find a place to eat and enjoy the meal, and Bear had ascertained that "Little Korea" was a mere few blocks from the station, we meandered over and found an absolutely fabulous Korean restaurant, where we ate and ate and ate and ate, then ate some more - and felt fabulously healthy afterward.
Both of us ordered Bi Bim Bap, which is a country dish - basically an enormous bowl with meat and fresh vegetables, served with a fried egg on top. You mix all the ingredients together, cutting the egg up in the process, and then you dump a small bowl of rice into it, add a dollop of hot red sauce, and stir the whole thing up again. When you eat it, your entire body sings with happiness - and that's not even counting all the lovely wee side dishes that come along with it! Delicious, delicious.
We walked all the way to the theater, which seemed like a good idea at the start, and then towards the end when we found ourselves walking in brightly lit but very people-free creepy areas behind warehouses and such, we wished we'd taken a cab instead.
Happily, we were not mugged or forcibly detained, and we arrived at the theater with about 30 minutes to kill before they opened the doors. There was no sign to speak of, so we weren't even sure we were at the right building. There were two guys leaning up against the wall, and after sizing them up and deciding they weren't drug dealers or muggers, we wandered over to ask them if this was, indeed, the McKittrick Hotel.
They assured us it was. The larger of the two fellows told us he's been to the play 40 times. At $100 a ticket, you do the math. I said he must have a great job. He said no, he works for a non-profit organization, but just spends all his money going to this play.
So we stood and chatted happily with them and some other folks that also had no idea where the entrance was, and waited to be let in. There was a cute young couple directly in front of us, and the girl was having panic attacks at the possibility of getting split up from her boyfriend once inside. Bear and I didn't want to get split up either, but ours was more of a "just try and split us up" attitude, neither one of us were actually afraid.
As it turns out, there was no such event - even though the girls taking our tickets at the counter intimated that couples did indeed get split up. However, they handed out playing cards to all the people that came in at the same time we did, and all the cards were the same.
We were led past the coat check, then into a lovely red velvet 1930s lounge, with intimate tables lit by battery operated candles. They sold me a completely fake absinthe cocktail for ten dollars, swearing all the while that it was made with real absinthe, and everyone sat down and waited. Those few minutes gave everyone a sense of security, a chance to relax, and to see who else might be in the room. I was keeping a sharp eye out for celebrities, because many of them have attended, some more than once. I saw no one I knew other than Bear.
In about five minutes, a young man with slicked back hair got onto the small stage in the spotlight and announced the start of the play. We were all issued the mandatory audience mask like the one pictured above, and told that from that point on there would be no talking.
Herded into a very dark elevator with a rather creepy bellhop who instructed us that this was an individual experience, not to talk, to follow whatever characters we wanted to or no one at all, and that there would be staff members throughout the hotel wearing black masks and black clothing, whom we were to obey. We were taken to a higher floor where we were let out with no further ado.
The experience from there is very hard to describe in any kind of chronological way, because it was rather like walking into someone else's really creepy dream. Rooms and corridors wove and interwove, all very dimly lit, so that you could enter and re-enter a place without actually meaning to. There were staircases, but if you tried to go up a level too soon, a black-masked staff member would be stationed blocking access to that staircase, so you were back off on your meander until such time as the next level became open.
No matter where we went, everything was extremely dimly lit - sometimes an ambient blue light, sometimes one solitary art deco desk lamp on a desk in the middle of a large space. Much squinting went on to read anything that was left about.
Rather than try to describe where we went first (because it makes no difference - nothing had any order) I will just throw out things that I saw and heard and did.
* A witches' herbarium filled with hanging herbs, jars of odd liquids and animal parts.
* Hidden sound systems throughout the entire building that played psychotic sounds like something from "The Shining", and alternately 1940's music that sounded like it was being played on a very old Victrola record, sometimes just the ticking of clocks, sometimes sounds you couldn't recognize and maybe didn't want to.
* A room with a leather examination chair in the center, odd and very old instruments of torture and surgery scattered about.
* A desk ledger with scrawly names in blue ink, a scribbled note that says "We have her" stuck in between some pages near the back.
* A bedroom with two small twin beds. I found a black feather under one of the pillows. The mirrored vanity contained a small jeweled makeup tin, with lipsticks in it. This creeped me out, because I wrote about just such a vintage vanity in my NaNoWriMo story - jeweled tin and all!
* A black room with laundry lines strung crazily from wall to wall, full of sheets and night shirts and clothes. I just had to see what was behind all the hanging laundry. As I pulled aside the last sheet, there on the floor in front of me was a coyote baring its teeth at me. I nearly screamed. Lucky for me, it was taxidermied. Not so lucky for the coyote.
* A room full of indexing boxes and scattered medical records. In the index boxes were hundreds of tiny cards, each one with a lock of hair sewn to it and penciled labels "patient no. 473" and "patient no. 872" and on and on...
* A psych ward room with rows of small white metal beds and awful, thin mattresses. Various items - a rosary, a letter, a feather, strewn on some of the beds.
* A room with an open, satin-lined coffin on one side, and a table bearing a real photo album "book of the dead" (in Victorian times they dressed dead people up and propped them up in chairs next to family members and took their pictures), which included departed folks from infants right up to the aged. I thought that might have been one of the "psychologically intense" features advertised in the email they sent. I know what a book of the dead is and have seen several, but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of people not really ready to look at stuff like that.
* A chapel with a bright blue stained glass cross on the far wall, and just an empty wooden table in the center of the room.
* A graveyard of dirt, marked only by small white crosses (I am assuming it was the psych ward graveyard), very dark at one end. When I wandered into the dark end of the room, I bumped into a Victorian baby carriage. Bizarre.
* A bureau with runes carved on the inside bottom of one of the drawers, and small bags of crystals in the other drawer.
* A padded cell, one wall of which was covered in an intricate star-like pattern of black and white feathers stuck into the padding. Various creepy stains all over the flooring.
* An office room where I found a locked box in one of the drawers. There was a box of keys hanging on the wall, but it too had a padlock. I tried eight ways from Sunday to find a key to either of those locks, and never could. In the corner of this room were several strings that ran from floor to ceiling, attached to which were book pages from which letters had been cut out.
* A birch forest maze (inexplicably, a solitary taxidermied mountain goat in the center of the maze), with a creepy bark-covered hut on one end. A nurse who looked drugged would regularly open the hut door and beckon one of the audience members inside, then shut the door again. As no one is allowed to speak, we never found out what happened to the audience members who got inside. I tried a few times, but was never selected to go inside.
Meanwhile, during our wander through all this eerily beautiful oddness, characters from the play would pass through the rooms and hallways, acting out their charades. They acted as if they couldn't see us at all most of the time, and each main character was followed in near panic by crowds of people who wanted to see what they would do next.
Bear and I, not having the "lemming gene", sometimes followed a character and sometimes we just let the crowd go with them, then spent more time examining rooms and areas without the people in them. Sometimes the characters were just leading people on a merry chase, and not doing anything of note.
We did get to see three or four of the main scenes - two of them bathtub scenes, and both times I managed to be right at the faucet end of the tub in question. Macbeth got nekked and threw himself into the first room with a tub that we were in - the tub was awful and grungy and the water looked rusty - and Lady Macbeth was doing this weird interpretive dance, flinging herself onto and off of a massive velvet-covered bed in the corner of the room.
Later, back in the psych ward (another psych room full of bathtubs) a nurse brought Lady Macbeth in, and she got nekked and got into her own disgusting rusty-watered tub, again with the interpretive dance moves.
The funniest part to me was that the crowds flocked to see the actors get naked, but the moment that the actors got out of the tubs and started walking through the room (right into the crowd) with no clothes on, people scrambled like hell to get away from them. Cowards. Heh!
Of the entire night, the best moment was when Bear and I walked into a large, long room that was like a living room on one end, like a library in the middle, and like a bedroom on the far end. All gorgeous Victorian velvet sofas and chairs, silver and china and leatherbound books and taxidermied animals on the walls, and old mantel clocks, and a huge trunk full of vintage men's clothing. In the very center of this room, near the walls of books, was an open space of wood floor.
The moment we walked into this room, some lively 1940s music started to play. I started to dance. Bear came and joined me, and we were swing dancing. Right behind us, another couple entered the room and they also began to dance. Then the girl peeled off from her partner (who was wearing a black kilt) and took Bear's hand and began to dance with him. Her kilted partner swung away and began to dance with me.
We were, all four of us, audience members - we all had the same white masks - so it wasn't part of the play, it wasn't choreographed, it was just people in a strange place making their own party while the music was good. It was magical!
There was a sort of culminating final scene where all the audience and cast members were in one very large hall-like room (the edges oddly lined with very large, dimly-lit Christmas trees). The cast members acted one scene together, all in extremely slow motion, and it was one of the best creepy things I've ever seen. No words, but the emotions came and went across their faces absolutely seamlessly. At one point, all the actors turned slowly towards those of us standing around watching, with ravening looks on their faces, and I thought we were about to get eaten alive. What I didn't realize was that there were two more cast members behind us, in our midst, coming forward towards the others. Whew! Relief!
And then there was a hanging.
I'm not going to pretend that there was any sort of story line here, or that I knew anything at the end of the experience that I didn't know at the beginning - there was no "aha" moment - but what I can tell you is that there isn't another experience like this one anywhere, that I know of. I'm also not going to pretend that I described even half of what we saw - there was just too much, and it all happened in a sort of dream, and some of it very quickly, and maybe some of it was only in my head. Inside the McKittrick, nothing is what it seems.
There are over 100 rooms to explore in the McKittrick Hotel, so there's no way to see everything in one visit, but it's definitely worth a go. I know, for example, that we missed the three witches, who reportedly have an orgy in one area of the hotel, and I would have liked to see that. Maybe, if the show is still running, we'll go again next year.
We spent an hour in Penn Station waiting for the next train home, and the entire station was inundated with cowboy-hat-wearing, drunk-off-their-ass hee-haws, who had just been un-caged from a bull riding championship competition at Madison Square Garden. Needless to say, that was an interesting hour. By the time we got home at 1:30AM, we were plumb tuckered out, y'all.
It was also bitter, bitter cold when we got off the train and headed to our vehicle, in the car park across the street. The exit machine arm thingie malfunctioned, so we sat there for some time in a line of bedraggled and exhausted people waiting to get out of the car park, until the attendant deigned to come outside and manually push the button to let us out.
I don't think Bear and I finished one sentence after we got into bed, it was lights out, passed out.
What a great night!