If I told you that the most enjoyable night on Broadway is spent sitting in the dark with your eyes closed, listening to mosquitoes buzz in your ears, what would you say?
Simon McBurney’s The Encounter transports you into the rain forest with the help of 3D sound. Using cheap-looking headphones with multiple speakers in each ear and a stage mic that looks like a human head, McBurney can sound like he’s standing right behind you or like he’s whispering into one ear or the other. The looping techniques allow him to create ongoing sound effects with water bottles and plastic spool tape while he narrates the somewhat fictionalized journey of real-life photo journalist Loren McIntyre through the jungles in search of The Beginning.
Loren McIntyre is lost in the jungle. He’s forgotten to mark his trail back to the Amazon River where his plane is meant to pick him up in a couple days. His film for the National Geographic has been exposed to light by tribes people. A monkey has snapped his camera in half. Loren must now find a way to befriend the tribes people who do not speak his language, people who have met white men before and who are now on the run from the destruction that their modern world brings their forest.
But The Encounter is not just an adventure story, and its audio technology is not just a gimmick. It is a high-tech user experience superior to anything 3D glasses can show you at the cinema. The story questions the direction of time, the purpose of man, and the fate of our world in the face of climate change. McBurney plays himself as the narrator, one frequently interrupted by his little daughter who is having trouble falling asleep, and he also plays Loren McIntyre by putting on an American accent and using a machine to lower his voice dramatically. I took my headphones off a couple times just to make sure that it really was him talking and not a recording. It plays with your mind. In addition, McBurney uses recordings with scientists to help provide some context to McIntyre’s adventure, including the voices of All in the Mind‘s Claudia Hammond and the author of the book that this piece was inspired by, Petru Popescu.
Purchase the book of The Encounter: Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu from Powells Books at this link, and you’ll be helping support Anglonerd.com with no extra cost to you.
You can watch the show with your eyes open, see how McBurney creates each of the sounds, along with some physical acting that includes dance, running, and also ripping off his shirt and smashing up the set. Or you can listen to the show with your eyes closed to be fully transported. Just remember not to splurge on the expensive seats. The sound quality is just as good in the bloody nose section. I saw the play with the writer/star Simon McBurney, but if you go on Tuesday evening or Wednesday matinee, Richard Katz will be the performer. This show ends January 8, 2016. Anglonerd recommends you must go see it!