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An Encounter Worth Hearing

By Patrick Hurley

Drawn from the book The Encounter: Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu, about Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic Photographer, who, in 1969 became lost in a remote part of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil. Director/performer Simon McBurney has put together a solo show, straight from a successful Broadway run,  playing now at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

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Photo by Rob Latour

The Encounter is about the photographer Loren, who in his desperate search in the jungle has a startling encounter, and also about the artist, Simon, in his desperate search on the stage, and it is the means with which he presents this journey that offers the audience a truly compelling encounter, and while the theatrical encounter is as much epistemological inquiry as it is ostentatious contrivance, the result is a cracked open theatrical form that lays its entire focus on the power of the spoken word, it’s a true testament to the efficacy of language.

The show, which falls under the performance art umbrella, as it is an experience unlike any other that most theatergoers will be accustomed to, exposes the process of an artist in his search for some kind of understanding and connection to the material that he has adapted, and so it is that the search is ultimately a search to connect to us, the audience. This is very much a piece of political art that wants to engage the audience in some kind of awareness. But we’re also watching the artist himself search for the same thing right in front of us. It sort of blurs the line of artist and subject much in the same way that Charlie Kaufman did with the film Adaptation. The difference here is that the story that’s happening is entirely through auditory means. We are seeing an artist move around the stage in reenactment, but it’s what we’re hearing that will compel and evoke most people.

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Photo by Rob Latour

Each audience member will be offered headphones, and these will be necessary for the entirety of the show. And so, through wonderful technological tricks, Mr. McBurney’s voice, as well as ambient sounds of the jungle among others will flood into the ears of the audience as we take this journey with the performer. And while the technology is outstanding, and the soundscape incredibly well executed, it’s a showy device that isn’t enough to uphold an entire narrative.

Luckily, the production never falls victim to itself, because of the wonderful energy and talent of Simon McBurney. As a performer, he is boisterous, funny, and constantly compelling to watch. As he tells the story of Loren, he embodies several characters, and the desperation that accompanied the journey. The story itself is one that is somewhat familiar, a man lost in a jungle who comes across an indigenous people…think Heart of Darkness with less elegiac poetry.  It’s what lies beneath the story, much like Conrad’s masterpiece that propels the narrative.

The minimal set, designed by Michael Levine, has an effectively neutral backdrop that feels like we’re in some kind of expressionistic recording booth. The openness of the large stage gives air to the production and encourages Mr. McBurney to move around, to use as much of it as he can. so that it never gets stagnate. The only downfall to the production is that the device of the headphones and the nature of the story gets a bit distracted by the visual of a man at a microphone.  At some point, it may be helpful to close your eyes and listen to better enhance the pictures that the language will create in your mind.

This is definitely a unique theatrical experience, perhaps even one that is itself in search of a theatrical form, which creates a sort of meta-theatrical world within the world of the piece that informs the narrative of a man searching for something, getting lost and finding something else. That may sound more convoluted than the piece actually is, but whatever the case, it’s certainly an encounter worth having.


Complicite Presents:

The Encounter

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Bram Goldsmith Theater

9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210

 When:Thursday, April 6 – Sunday, April 16, 2017

Performance Schedule: Tues – Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2pm & 8pm; Sun at 2pm

 Tickets:Single tickets: $25 – $100 (prices subject to change)

Online – TheWallis.org/EncounterBy Phone – 310.746.4000

Box Office – Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services

9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210

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