After about an hour of wandering around rooms reminiscent of Cambridge Antique Mart (McGrath Highway, free entry, free parking) I found myself in the Manderley Bar, which is part of the production set, sat down next to a handful of equally confused looking adults and said:”Did I miss something?”

Glad to find release from their shell shock (shock at having spent $40 x 2 on a ticket, $7 x 2 to the City of Brookline, $5 to a ticket agency, $11 for parking, $2 to check coats, and $7 each for a non-alcoholic drink) they all answered: “I’m thinking the same thing!”

(BTW: the evening we were there a man was pick pocketed while he roamed through the dark rooms. Someone took his wallet and cell phone.)

SLEEP NO MORE, is a Punchdrunk and American Repertory Theater Production taking place in Brookline’s old Lincoln School on Boylston Street, through January 3, 2010. It is one of three shows in three different locations that have to do with a Shakespeare Exploded theme. The production has received mostly favorable reviews from the press and from attendees who post their reactions on the web. The half dozen people sitting at a table with me at the Manderley couldn’t figure out why the good reviews.

What could have redeemed the show?  Several of us agreed: dialogue (or maybe cue cards?) One man confessed he was there only because his daughter was a theater major; he knew nothing about theater and after the past hour understood less. My husband, who has performed with the ART in the past, asked: “What’s the point?”

Besides being like a trip to the antique mart, I thought the absence of dialogue and the collage effect of SLEEP NO MORE immersed viewers in a 3-D module of short attention span.  But I can get ‘almost’ that on the internet and for less out-of-pocket cash.  I go to theater to ponder and share the human connection to sorrow and joy.

According to the program, the production merges the theatrical and the cinematic; Shakespeare fused to Hitchcock. Huh? Hitchcock film sets are bright, almost all primary colors.

Ok. I admit the rooms full of pine trees were extraordinary. And…first ten minutes were exciting. The Masks. Darkness. Spooky music.  Strangers brushing against my body. It was a bit like being in Venice during Carnivale, wandering through a candle lit palazzo. Then there were the women in lingerie flailing themselves around on beds, moaning.  For sure there’s an intended sexual charge. The actor who delivered us via crowded elevator to a dark hallway, winked and said, ‘Now go on out and misbehave!”

Are Bostonians too uptight to misbehave?  Is New England still awash in conservative Puritanical energy? We we all expected to get randy in a public space? Was that the point…to realize it was possible yet impossible?

After the initial charge, SLEEP NO MORE delivered more of the same– flailing women, dark rooms, weird music, strangers, mildewed books, ratty furniture–never lifting the exposition to a story climax.

Immersion? Yes. Theater ? No?  Installation art? Yes.

If I had paid half the price, I would not have sat at the table with the other confused adults feeling as if I had been robbed. I might have enjoyed the effort and the effects.  I might have considered that the point of the experience was those last ten minutes: the conversation I shared with other human beings who weren’t whispering “shhhh-shh” and telling me I had to wear my mask.