Closing one’s eyes in the theater can be a sign of boredom or exhaustion. But shutting the peepers at Simon McBurney’s utterly transfixing mind-tickler The Encounter is a valid expression of rapture. You wear headphones which transmit binaural (“3D”) sound, as McBurney moves around the stage rattling props and speaking over a dense layer of prerecorded voices and FX. If you enjoy radio drama, audiobooks or simply having your senses suffused by intense sonic stimulation, then lean back and let the lids drop.
Mind you, there’s plenty to see if you prefer to watch. McBurney, prime mover of the experimental British company Complicite, is a wryly engaging performer who can command an audience by sheer force of voice and intellect. Those who saw him in Complicite’s extraordinary Mnemonic (2001) may remember how he threw himself physically (often nude) into a multimedia performance piece that compared a woman’s search for her wayward father to the scientific analysis of a hominid’s remains discovered in a glacier.
The Encounter is another quest narrative, this time the true story of photojournalist Loren McIntyre, who got lost in the Amazon rainforest and fell under the disorienting protection of Mayoruna tribespeople. McIntyre forms a strong nonverbal attachment to the tribe’s headman, whom he nicknames Barnacle and with whom he believes he’s having telepathic conversations.
In this primal, lysergic movie for the brain, McBurney covers a dazzling array of topics: the nature of time, technology’s deadening of mental powers, and the spiritual cost of civilized life. Part mystic thriller, part tricksy aural illusion, The Encounter offers a meeting of ear, mind and soul you will never forget.
John Golden Theatre (Broadway). Conceived and performed by Simon McBurney. Directed by McBurney and Kirsty Housley. Sound design by Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin. Scenic design by Michael Levine. Lighting design by Paul Anderson. Projection design by Will Duke. Running time: 1hr 50mins. No intermission. Through Jan 8. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
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