4 of 5 stars.
This speculative tale enmeshes several haunting historic moments of The Angouleme Hotel in New York City, aka The Big Arena, with the present in alternately backstage and front-of-house views of a play within a play within a tale of the players. The use of AI, virtual reality and embedded palm tech ensures that the audience is intimately part of the ghost tale no matter which floor of the hotel has the action. Meanwhile, manikins dressed for every era in the hotel’s history haunt the corners of each performance space as specters of time.
Jacoby Cass, residing in the Angouleme after his most recent ex-wife took the house, has written a play on the sordid hotel’s dodgy history starring himself as the first owner, Edwin Lowery Nance, who died under mysterious circumstances [plummeting 9 stories down an elevator shaft] with most suspicions falling on his young, sleep-walking daughter, Evangeline, who may or may not have seen the brunt of her own father’s amorous advances. Evangeline died in the hotel decades later of drug overdose.
Act II stars Jeremy Knight as the real life Jacky Mac, a flamboyant designer of the 1970’s, who was murdered in the hotel by some rough trade. Knight even performs scenes from Mac’s one-man-show that he was performing at the time of his murder.
The confusing dinner-theater atmosphere makes the entire night feel real for the participants and audience alike. All the play needs now is a killer third act that the hotel’s history cannot yet provide . . .
“Sleep Walking Now and Then” appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 edited by Paula Guran and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Tor.com, July 9, 2014.
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