Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Encounter ** C

This production, conceived, directed and performed by Complicite co-founder and artistic director Simon McBurney, certainly qualifies as the most unusual offering currently on Broadway. It was inspired by the book Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu, which tells the story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre and his search for the reclusive Mayoruna tribe in the Amazon rainforest. They find him before he finds them and his stay with them is harrowing but enlightening. What makes this piece so unusual is that the work is basically an enhanced radio play in which aural elements greatly outweigh the visual. Each audience member is supposed to listen through the provided earphones rather than directly. The 3D sound design, by Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, is highly immersive, but the novelty wore off for me rather quickly. The scenic design by Michael Levine features a back wall covered by sound-studio foam with evocative lighting by Paul Anderson and projections by Will Duke. McBurney (or Richard Katz, who performs on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday matinees) chats up the audience with a demonstration of the audio wizardry before he begins the story, in which he plays both narrator and McIntyre. The story is frequently interrupted by the voices of expert commentators and, annoyingly, McBurney’s 5-year-old daughter. There are mystical and philosophical overtones and a rather ham-fisted critique of modern materialism. Although it held my interest better than anticipated, I did not find it compelling theater. Richard Katz's performance was sufficiently impressive that I did not feel I missed out on anything that would have changed my opinion of the play, Running time: one hour 50 minutes, no intermission.

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