Review: In ‘Sleep,’ a Wakeful Woman Faces Long, Surreal Nights

What do you do when you can’t sleep? Do you take deep breaths? Do you take pink capsules? Do you tally worries, count sheep, or do you decide to give up and get up and stay there?

That’s the choice made by the woman at the center of “Sleep,” a gorgeous and surreal adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story, directed and devised by Rachel Dickstein and Ripe Time at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

An unnamed woman (Jiehae Park) wakes from a nightmare and finds that she can no longer sleep.

When we meet her, she says, “This is my 17th day without sleep. I don’t sleep. I can’t sleep.” (I have two very young children, which is to say, “Girl, I feel you.”)

To pass the darkened hours, the woman rediscovers the novels she loved as a teenager, chiefly “Anna Karenina.” Soon Anna and Vronsky and a few ghostlier figures are languishing in the corners of the tidy condo she shares with her dentist husband and school-age son.

Because the short story is written as a monologue, the playwright Naomi Iizuka, a writer too little seen in New York, has an easy enough time adapting it. She wisely grounds the magical realism by adding in a few quotidian details, like the woman’s disgust when her husband has a piece of food stuck between his polished teeth. And she gooses the dramatic tension with a few scattered hints — such as the woman’s neglect in taking her Honda Civic to the shop — that later flower savagely.

Photo

Visions that come alive in the middle of the night. From left, Akiko Aizawa, Jiehae Park and Saori Tsukada in “Sleep.”

Credit
Emon Hassan for The New York Times

But words have never been of chief interest for Ms. Dickstein. Her particular and abundant skill as a director is in melding sets, lights, movement, sound and video into intense and unsettling environments. Here the set is a narrow gray box, initially anyway, backed by what seems to be a mirror and is soon revealed as a second set placed just behind the first.

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