The Encounter

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Photo: Joan Marcus Review
The philosophy on the Great White Way tends to be the bigger the spectacle, the better. But the greatest extravagance in Simon McBurney’s solo outing The Encounter is the soundscape, a vast commingling of voices and noises of the Brazilian jungle, as an American journalist becomes embedded with a primitive tribe. It’s a feast for the mind and the senses, and an exciting kickoff to the Broadway season.

McBurney, a founder of the British movement-based theater company Complicite, takes as inspiration the nonfiction book Amazon Beaming, which recounts National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre’s 1969 encounter with — and subsequent capture by — the nomadic Mayoruna tribe, who were new to contact with civilization. Although they didn’t share a language, McIntyre felt as if he could communicate with the leader telepathically. Before the photographer escaped, he was carted along on their spiritual journey to return to the beginning of time, and deeply affected by it.

Set on a mostly bare stage with only a table and a few props, The Encounter employs cutting-edge sound design, by Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin. Audience members are provided with headsets into which audio is projected through a large binaural, head-shaped microphone, which immerses you in the sounds as if you were onstage. McBurney blends together live and recorded audio to tell McIntyre’s story amid the human, animal and nature sounds of the jungle.

And what a mind-warping adventure it is! McIntyre falls seriously ill and sees his belongings burned by the naked tribespeople, who are worried about the encroachment of outsiders. Yet a motif recurs: the phrase “Some of us are friends.” Also included are conversations between McBurney and his young daughter, whose recorded voice keeps interrupting him as he tries to put together the show, and snippets of background interviews he conducted.

The Encounter thrives on chaos, although even at only an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, it has occasional lulls. McBurney’s concern is wrestling with ideas — human interconnectedness, the conflict of cultures, our relationship to nature — and stimulating the subconscious, rather than creating a well-made play. It works. The highlights are all in your head.

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Simon McBurney

Open/Close Dates
Opening 9/29/2016
Closing 1/8/2017

Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 9/20/2016
Closing Open-ended

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Theatre Info
John Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036