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Kishore Singh: The New York experience

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

Kishore Singh

If you haven't seen a parade in New York, "you ain't seen nothing yet", as its natives like to say. A previous visit to the Big Apple had coincided with Halloween and its fantastical display of costumes and make-up, and now here was St Patrick's Day being commemorated with everyone in the city turning up in green, while sidewalk entrepreneurs made quick profits from the sale of beer stored in prams even as blocked roads played havoc with traffic. New Yorkers like to make a production of everything, so Batman turned up in a green bowler hat, the NYPD bagpiper bands were preceded by Harlequin performers, and darned if everyone wasn't partying on a day when we were working.

But that was nothing compared to the masked camaraderie we were promised when a colleague recommended tickets for a show called Sleep No More in lieu of a more conventional Broadway musical, and in an astonishing lack of judgement, a dozen of us queued up on an icy pavement to gain entry into what was pledged as a lifetime's experience. In a sepulchral chamber, we were each kitted out in masks, while actors warned us against taking them off, or talking, and escorted us to a lift where they managed the feat of separating us within moments, leaving us to stumble around alone amidst a nightmarish McKittrick Hotel.

We made our way up and down lonely staircases, found ourselves in bizarre banquet rooms and lobbies, while actors ran around - sometimes in the buff - leaching blood, engaged in odd enactments that included seductions, deaths, murders, burials, depictions that occurred in the weirdest spaces, without warning, while an audience in masks watched like a coven of ghouls. It was claustrophobic, creepy, disorienting, overwhelming, but also voyeuristic and exciting. Having ticked it off our bucket list, we swore to never subject ourselves to it again, surprising two colleagues who'd "participated" in the ritual before, and seemed surprised at our lack of enthusiasm for signing up for a repeat performance. Speaking for my wife and myself, the theatre is now on our List of 100 Things Never to be Repeated.

Costumery, in all its manifestations, is, of course, a large part of the New York experience. Having been virtually driven into a Madison Avenue designer store that housed a bevy of Italian brands, I embarrassed Etian, the smooth-talking salesman, when I said his "up to 80 per cent off" prices were too steep to merit consideration. "My frienda," he cajoled me with his false Italian accent, "you feela the fabric, you toucha the material" while I proceeded, instead, to cling to my credit card without swiping it for a suit that "the broads, they will luvva it".

Broads weren't on my to-do list, but at least one acquaintance wanted to be directed to a "classy joint" - a metaphor for a burlesque show, his intention, he insisted, being to acknowledge the artistry of pole dancers who'd had the good sense to strip earlier, since "cheap strippers" put him off. As no one seemed keen to join him in his nocturnal quests, he found himself isolated from other evening entertainments, which is a pity because he might have enjoyed Sleep No More, if only because its actors managed the feat of divesting themselves of their clothes without stripping in the prurient sense of the term, the very act he'd hoped to encounter as he tramped through the streets of New York craving for wholesome entertainment that only the less knowledgeable might term vulgar.

First Published: Fri, March 20 2015. 22:34 IST
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