New York City Theater
It’s an old dilemma: which is truer, fiction or reality? Reality is, well, reality, facts witnessed and grounded, while fiction directs us to certain feelings and conclusions. In “The Encounter,” the one-person show conceived, directed and performed by the award-winning British theater maven Simon McBurney, fact becomes fiction, told mainly through sound (each audience member wears headphones).
Headphones is the appropriate name, for what goes on before your eyes is nothing compared with the noises within your noggin. With sound seeming to come from every direction, it’s fascinating for about half its length, then goes off on a tangent that may make you want to surrender and go home.
There’s not much to see on the stage, just McBurney racing about, drinking water, overturning furniture, talking to a disembodied model head and generally exhausting himself. For a time, the tale, inspired by Petru Popescu’s book “Amazon Beaming,” is both mysterious and suspenseful, asking questions about culture, consciousness and time as an American journalist, Loren McIntyre, traveling deep in the Brazilian Amazon, encounters the “uncivilized” Mayoruna people.
This is a nomad tribe that will burn its village , then move to a different location. For them, time has stopped, isolation is their chosen path and the enemy is so-called civilization with its oil companies and materialism.
McBurney frames the story as if told to his young daughter. Somehow, that relationship between father and daughter is more emotional, more human (maybe because more familiar) than just about anything else that happens.
Through McBurney, McIntyre’s tale has components to excite any child: warriors, a head tribesman whom he nicknames Barnacle, and with whom he communicates telepathically, native children and a general air of threat. Through sounds that rattle stereophonically in the brain, equilibrium is disoriented. And you’re drawn into the center of events, as if experiencing them for yourself in real time.
The irony, of course, is the use of modern technology to tell the story of an indigenous tribe. But the evening loses track of the Mayoruna people, veering off and running out of narrative into lessons about “loosening our bonds” and “freeing ourselves.”
McBurney, one of the world’s great directors, heads the famous theater company “Complicite” that gave us well-received revivals of “All My Sons” and “The Chairs,” as well as the unforgettable “A Disappearing Number.” Now, in collaboration with inventive sound designers Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, he has created a prime example of immersive, technological theater. It works for a while. However, excerpt for the interplay between father and daughter, it’s more an aural experience than a dramatic one.
--David A. Rosenberg
Oct. 18, 2016