By Brian Scott Lipton



Upon first reflection, “The Encounter” sounds like the kind of show you’d encounter at BAM or St. Ann’s Warehouse, not Broadway’s Golden Theatre: a one-person (multi-character) monologue, running about two hours without intermission, that you hear while wearing headphones attached to your seat. Where’s the spectacle? Where are the set changes? Where’s the excitement of a Broadway show?

Fear not. With the ever-innovative British writer-director at the helm of this enterprise – not to mention center stage for these two hours – there’s excitement aplenty in learning about the late real-life photographer/adventurer Loren McIntyre’s journey to a remote area in the Amazon in the 1960s where he spent some perilous, if ultimately life-changing, time with a basically unknown Indian tribe called the Mayoruna (aka “Cat People”).

Part of the thrill of The Encounter is the astounding binaural technology that’s been employed for this show (with sound designers Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin). The result is practically like watching a 3-D movie, as you viscerally experience a bug buzzing in your left ear, a door slamming in your right, or multiple voices coming at you in front of you or behind you. (The voices occasionally belong to other real-life people, including Simon McBurney’s young daughter, Noma, who provides a kind of comic relief, and Petru Popescu, a Romanian novelist who became friends with McIntyre and wrote a book that is the basis for this play.)

Simon McBurney in The Encounter by Complicite @ Barbican Theatre. Directed by Simon McBurney. (Opening-17-02-16) ©Tristram Kenton 02/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Yet most of what makes The Encounter such an extraordinary theatrical outing is in the beautifully crafted telling of the tale by McBurney, an unprepossessing looking man who acts as narrator and also “plays” McIntyre (using a weird American accent) and various members of the Mayoruna. In every moment, he brings enormous passion and conviction to the proceedings, which is no mean feat since he’s performed the show numerous times in London in New York. (Note: an actor named Richard Katz does star at certain performances.)

Moreover, while we know McIntyre survived his ordeals (from snippets of tape played early on), that outcome often feels like it’s in doubt, as McIntyre faces numerous life-threatening experiences, from being trapped in a thornbush to near-starvation, unbearable heat, and unbelievably heavy rains and floods.

At times, McBurney receives valuable assistance in making these experiences feel even more life-like by the excellent lighting of Paul Anderson and the projections of Will Duke, which are displayed on the giant stage backdrop designed by Michael Levine. And there are even a few props that are used for multiple, often surprising purposes. (Believe me, you’ll be amazed what a simple water bottle can accomplish.)

Admittedly, the piece occasionally feels longer than it should (90 minutes would have sufficed), especially, if like me, you have a lesser tolerance for protracted philosophical discussions about the concepts of “time,” “communication” or “consciousness.”

Still, audiences with an open mind will undoubtedly be changed for the better by their encounter with The Encounter.

The Encounter is currently at the John Golden Theater (252 West 45th Street). Call 212-239-6200 for tickets.