The Arthur Golden theater on Broadway, built in 1929, is housing a one man show run on haunting technological fervor through January 8th of next year.
Simon McBurney and a team of sound operators and projection technicians bring to life a sparse but electrifying set made up of a handful of microphones, packs of bottled water, streamers of loose film, a desk with a lamp and a wheely chair, a bag of cheese doodles, and a backdrop of a ceiling-high camera lens. The set extends into the audience, with headphones on every seat. The story within a story is about a photographer named Loren McIntyre, who goes deep into the Amazon to search for a tribe no one’s ever been able to photograph. McBurney tells the story of himself telling the story, interwoven with McIntyre’s memories, based on a book by Petru Popescu. The result is incredible, fantastical, and, of course, disorienting.
At 7:00 PM, the question McBurney poses in his opening monologue is what is time anyway? What is true when it’s measured by time? Do we need times as we’ve come to know it, or is it just a way to commodify existence? As he’s speaking his voice shifts from the left ear of the headphones to the right, and in one ear the audience hears his “now” voice, while the other is him a few moments before. The changes in which voice one is hearing could go unnoticed if not for another voice popping up. This isn’t some linear experience. Leave your watch at the door.
From the get-go, McBurney’s out to demonstrate that time can be complicated by other commodities, like technology. Is what he just said part of the present because it’s recorded to be played whenever, until whenever the technology becomes obsolete? What value does that power of record have, really, in the face of nature? A smashed camera is no camera. Drowned film is no film. What does the river care about being recorded by technology that can’t dissolve without consequence back into the river? We return to ourselves -our fragile bodies- when there’s nothing to record with. We are cleansed of time itself. We are all memory, and memory, another thing McBurney questions throughout his performance as McIntyre (and himself), is unendingly questionable.
McIntyre set off on his own to photograph a tribe that had never been captured on camera, and is left with only his memory to recall the tale of his journey with them. Memory is a record that returns to the river when we’re washed away by the flood, for instance. Nature and memory can coexist because memory can return to its origin. McIntyre’s story calls to attention that records, like invaders, are damned in the forest, by the forest and anyone who would care more for things like mere pictures of the forest than the forest itself. Told through a series of projected images, recordings, reverberating sounds, and monologues, live streaming into eyes and ears, both, this story makes telling time so confusing it is irrelevant. The only way to mark where one is in the course of the story is by clearings in the forest, rain, and fire. It’s an experience that leaves one at the beginning of the journey with new eyes (and ears), questioning the memories, but not the feeling of having experienced them. For a show constructed with so many different kinds of technology, ‘The Encounter‘ and McBurney, himself, do a brilliant job at bringing audiences face-to-face with their basic instincts, senses- their core nature. It’s a ground-breaking thing to experience amidst the neon flashing lights and crowds on Broadway.