TIO NYC: What Not to Miss, “The Encounter,” A Trip

TIO NYC: What Not to Miss, “The Encounter,” A Trip

“The Encounter” a techno trip and tour de force is now up at the John Golden Theatre,” 252 West 45, between 7th & 8th Avenues. Runs through January 8, 2017. Tickets here.

Since the company was founded in 1983, Complicite has performed worldwide, winning over 50 major awards for daring to cross known theatrical boundaries.

Simon McBurney at his desk on stage.

Simon McBurney at his desk on stage.

Complicite’s artistic director (also writer, actor) Simon McBurney continues to pursue roads less traveled – including the thick brush of Amazon jungle, the setting for his latest celebrated play, “The Encounter,” the hottest ticket at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival where it opened  in 2015.

In this context, a machete might be be a useful tool to get you through the layers of meaning.

Your full attention and an open mind and heart are better.

Headphones help too – they come with the price of your ticket – ensuring we auditors a personal relationship with the actor, whose voice (and other voices, including McBurney’s young daughter, plus jungle sounds, roaring water, etc.) swirl in our heads throughout McBurney’s Olympian performance.

What are some of the key questions “The Encounter” explores? McBurney gives us a few clues before the Amazon overwhelms our senses.

Why do we surrender ourselves so easily and completely to narrative? Is it to escape or enhance our lives? Both?

What is reality and what is fiction? The Yoga tradition for one teaches that once we see through our thought patterns and perceptions, we clear away the clouds and meet our true Self, the Observer, a shining light, as opposed the observed, which is most of us unenlightened folk. The “observed” suffers from ignorance of who we are and of the underlying reality that connects everything in the universe. The Mayoruna tribe helps McBurney as McIntyre get there– or at least much closer to his true Self.

In the rainforest.

In the rainforest.

As part of our illusion, we generally only trust what we experience through our senses. But is there a time we should also trust the extrasensory? Have you ever had a telepathic experience with another human being or animal? If you did, did you trust it?

Do we need all the stuff we accumulate? Do we own our gadgets and comforts own us? Do material possessions equal or impede progress? For the Mayoruna, stuff represents the oil-hungry, destroying West, so-called civilization. They take extreme actions to remain unencumbered.

“The Encounter” is also a meditation on time. We need to stay connected to time, but also have the itch to conquer it. (Ask any Boomer.) Is time as we generally perceive it linear? Or can it fold in on itself like it does in a film that premiered in North America at the Telluride Film Festival, “Arrival.” Is there an end of time?

McBurney’s “The Encounter” is a mind-blowing, mind-enhancing journey that takes off from Petru Popescu’s book “Amazon Beaming,” leaving most of thse questions open-ended. Trusting the audience to meditate on the all the possible answers.

For the record, “Amazon Beaming” tells the wild and wooly story of Loren McIntyre, the American photojournalist, who, in 1969, successfully located a lost tribe, Mayoruna or “cat” people and the source of the Amazon River. In doing so, the adventurer dropped out of time, out of any familiar context, finding himself physically and metaphorically naked for the first, well, time in his life.

Credit Robbie Jack

Credit Robbie Jack

Marooned amid 400 square miles of dense, Brazilian rainforest, with no shared language and suspicion growing among the tribe, his life hanging by a thread, McIntyre becomes dependent on the protection of the tribe’s headman, whom he nicknames Barnacles. In time, the two connect. Telepathically.

In the grips of this thriller, we too fall out of time with McBurney/McIntyre.

For a full review, read what Ben Brantley had to say about “The Encounter” in The New York Times. His review of the tour de force production was written in February.

Someone is blowing in your ear, and it isn’t anybody in your immediate vicinity. You can feel this distant person’s breath (hot) and his urgency (hotter), and the sound of him is all over the place — behind you, before you, to either side of you, close and distant, shouting and whispering, sometimes in several voices at once.

You could make him (them) go away, you know, quite easily. All you would have to do is remove the headphones you were instructed to put on as soon as you arrived at the Barbican Theater. But why would you want to?

This man of many tongues — his name is Simon McBurney — is taking you somewhere you’ve never been before. And not just into the rain forests of the Amazon, where most of the story that’s being told here takes place.

Mr. McBurney’s “The Encounter,” which sold out its limited run (through March 6) at the Barbican even before it opened last week, is a journey to the center of your mind that begins in your auditory nerves and keeps burrowing deeper. Directed and performed by Mr. McBurney, this production from the genre-bending Complicite company is one of the most fully immersive theater pieces ever created.

Yet “The Encounter” never asks its audience to reach out and touch someone or something, or to walk through site-specific labyrinths, or to engage in conversation with a performer, as is often the way of interactive art these days. The experience of this production is utterly stationary. You simply sit down, don the headset that’s attached to your seat, and let Mr. McBurney and his extraordinary sound designers — Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin — play with your ears.

Inspired by Petru Popescu’s “Amazon Beaming” — a novel based on real-life accounts of an American’s adoption by the mystical Mayoruna tribe in 1969 — “The Encounter” is nominally a one-person show. The British Mr. McBurney adopts a Yankee accent and a lower pitch of voice to become the photojournalist Loren McIntyre (1917-2003), as he travels down the Amazon River and into the heart of — no, not darkness — enlightenment, deep in the jungles of Brazil.

Mr. McBurney also remains himself: the actor, writer, researcher, narrator and family man who has assembled this work. He is always fully visible on the stage, which has been reimagined by the designer Michael Levine as a foam-walled broadcast studio, alone with a host of microphones. One of these, shaped like a human head, is binaural, and the source of much of the audio magic worked by Mr. McBurney. There are also many bottles of water, which will be put to inventive use.

The production begins with Mr. McBurney explaining to us, in layman’s terms, how his show will work to disorient and deceive us, with talk of things like the “digital bytes” we will be processing. It’s as if we had begun an audience with the Wizard of Oz — not with the projected great and terrible head that so startled Dorothy from Kansas, but with the ordinary man behind the curtain who manipulates the illusions.

And before he delves into the central story of “The Encounter,” Mr. McBurney muses on the nature of storytelling, memory, time and consciousness, as it exists both as part of, and independent of, the brain. We hear snippets of his conversations with experts on these subjects and with Mr. Popescu. We also hear the voice of Mr. McBurney’s 6-year-old daughter, who regularly interrupts her dad while he is at work on this particular project.

You might think that all this meta-rumination would impose an intellectual distance between us and the show’s main narrative, …

Continue reading here.



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