This is one time that I can’t bury the headline, which is: Simon McBurney gives an absolute tour de force performance at The Wallis! And there are only a few more nights/days left in the very limited run of The Encounter, so you need to see it right away, even if it means rushing to get tickets this very minute, before you read the rest of my review. It’s the most different theatre experience you’ll ever have! You really cannot even imagine what’s in store for you.
What a gargantuan effort this is! It’s hard to fathom that a person can do this unbelievable energetic one-man (sort-of) show every night! And he recently performed it on Broadway, as well. He must be exhausted by now. (And I actually am, too, just from being in the opening night audience! Here I am, still pondering the entire experience four days later!)
Before I explain what I’m talking about, a bit of personal background: Many years ago, Mr. X and I both got asked to be VJs (“video jockeys”) on a new start-up TV channel that was planning to rival MTV. To convince us to work with them, the producers introduced us to some amazing audio technology, the likes of which made us not believe our own ears. We donned the special headphones, and could swear that someone was coming up behind us. And then whispering in our ears. And even cutting our hair, (which truly freaked me out—you may know how vain I am about my tresses!) You get the picture. (Or the sound image, to be more exact.) Unlike stereo, which is side-to-side, this system enabled us to perceive sound as front-to-back, up-and-down, and all-around. This technology was truly deserving of being called amazing!
And then, after all their hard work, (and ours,) the channel never got off the ground. (But it wasn’t a total loss—the make-up girl gave me some cool cosmetics! Ever the shallow one, I take that as a win.) Mr. X, always being on the cutting edge of technology, kept looking out for that wondrous sound system to become famous. But, alas, it was never to be heard of again.
Until the other night at The Wallis, that is!!! And it’s even more fascinating today than it was all those years ago. It’s a major component of The Encounter, which I’ll elaborate on in a minute.
But first let me attempt to explain the show. It will be a feeble attempt, I’m sure, because at the end of opening night, I scribbled the note, “I don’t even know what I just witnessed!!!” It was that different.
Charming British actor/director Simon McBurney performs this spell-binding one-man show in which he tells the true story of, and also portrays, former National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, who got lost in a remote area of Brazil in 1969. The book about that adventure, The Encounter: Amazon Beaming, by Petru Popescu, (who, in a coincidence, happens to live right here in Beverly Hills, near this theatre; how fun for him to see it produced in his own backyard!,) inspired Simon to conceive this show.
But, curiously, there is no “Written By” credit in the program. It tells us that The Encounter is “Directed and Performed By Simon McBurney,” but doesn’t say who wrote the actual words. There’s a list of “Artistic Collaborators,” but I don’t know if that’s the same. And, even though Simon and the technology are the stars, the writing is of major importance here, too, because the live monolog has to be exact in order to sync-up with the recorded bits. But I have the feeling that most of the credit goes to Simon. [Note: If you know otherwise, please correct me in the Comments section below. I never mind being corrected.]
I have to be honest and tell you that the actual tale is not that interesting to me, (because it’s just not my cup of tea—I took my best naps in High School Social Studies classes,) and, at two hours with no intermission, the show is way too long for my attention span (and broken back!) But the acting and presentation are absolutely riveting. The Encounter is definitely worth seeing! [Note: In a strange coincidence, just the night before, I had seen the new film, The Lost City of Z, which is about British explorer, Percy Fawcett, who disappeared while exploring—guess where?—a remote area of Brazil! And, as a young man, Loren McIntyre had studied him! How weird is that?! The combo of the two back-to-back biographical entertainments made me wonder why people want to do this dangerous exploring to begin with. I don’t even want to venture into the Valley!]
Okay, let’s get back to that aural technology aspect of The Encounter. Every seat in the theatre is equipped with a pair of Sennheiser headphones, which the audience members wear for the duration. (If they want to amazed, that is! No one makes you don them! I don’t think.) The 3D technology makes every second of the presentation seem so real, including the Amazon rainforest. There are many pre-recorded bits thrown-in along the way, and the coordination of those with Simon’s live words is mind-boggling. Mr. X noted that it’s all “really, really seamless.”
In addition to all his extraordinary creativity, Simon McBurney is really a charming guy. He just sort-of chats with the audience at the beginning, so there doesn’t appear to be an official start to the production, which is just like my former television show; the director always began the taping while I was still bantering with my audience. So you know that Simon instantly endeared himself to me with that move.
As a matter of fact, since this was a two-hour one-man show, Mr. X turned to me the second it was over, and said, “He just did four of your shows!” That was exactly what I was thinking! (In case you’re not familiar with it, mine was a half hour in a row, with just me talking off the top of my head. But The Encounter is scripted, and incredible. And not frivolous. And takes an amazing amount of stamina! And brain-power!)
After he chatted for a bit, Simon told us to put on the headphones, and then did an incredible demonstration of their capabilities. We were all laughing and screaming during that part. It was fabulous!
He asked us to close our eyes for that demo, which was great. But he never told us to open them again, so I didn’t know what to do! I really felt like I was cheating the few times I peeked.
For the play, Simon walks around an almost-bare stage that’s totally devoid of decoration, save for a desk and very many plastic water bottles. (That reminds me—BYOB…of water, or else you’ll get really thirsty during those two hours. Not just from life, but because of the tale you’ll be hearing. I am far from kidding about this one; you really need to heed my advice! All of it always, but especially this time. And no fellow audience members can admonish you that drinking is not allowed in the theatre because…everyone’s eyes are closed! For once, you can do anything you want, actually!)
Even though he might assume that most everyone will keep his or her eyes closed the entire time, Simon does a full-on physical show, as well, perhaps just in case a few audience members don’t get the “close your eyes” memo. He walks around, dances, runs, speaks in different voices, and even does little subtle moves, such as looking at his watch in the appropriate places. And he winds-up destroying all those water bottles (for the sound effects of, I believe,) and actually the entire set before it’s all done! So I recommend keeping your eyes closed most of the time, for maximum effect, but watching him do his thing for some of it. Or just see it twice, one each way!
So much was going on that I couldn’t possibly grasp every second of it, but at the beginning, he kept discussing time. It seemed like he was espousing a theory that I’ve held for ages–that time is different for everyone. I have two examples to back that up that I’ll share at the very end of this review, after the show’s information at the bottom.
My favorite part of the whole shebang is hearing his young daughter interact with him. I could have been happy with a show of just their little late-night conversations, when the little girl can’t sleep, and he’s trying to get her back to bed. (All in our headphones, of course.) She sounds like my favorite little girl, from a viral video, who exasperatedly tells her mother that she isn’t wearing lipstick—that it’s lip gloss. I love that girl! *[Note: I put the link to that video at the bottom of this page, in case you’re not one of the five million people who are already in on the adorable-ness.]
Here are a few last random thoughts on The Encounter:
It’s like an old-time radio drama, which is a major compliment! Mr. X and I love those!
Do not wear ornate earrings to the show, nor complicated up-dos, or else they could get caught in the headphones/wires.
Since it’s mainly an aural presentation, this is a great show to take a visually-impaired person to. They won’t miss a thing! (I’m not joking—I totally mean it.)
This is perhaps the first show ever in my entire life that I did not need binoculars! Or people in front of me with polite hair! (I.e. no high buns, hats, giant curls, sunglasses on the top of their heads, etc.) (Because my eyes were closed!)
Now go have your own encounter in Beverly Hills already…with The Encounter!
The Encounter running through April 16, 2017
Wallis Annenberg Theater For The Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Boulevard Beverly Hills 310-746-4000 www.thewallis.org
Okay, here’s how I developed my theory that time is different for each person. Many years ago, I compared experiences I had with two different friends. Here’s what happened with my friend Mitch, the easiest-going person on the face of the planet: We entered a popular Chinese restaurant one night, on the way to a Clippers game. I was not at all familiar with their menu, and was panicked because I didn’t want to miss a second of the game, not even the National Anthem! But Mitch said no problem; we’d be out of there in forty-five minutes. Yeah, right—has he met me?! It takes me that long to read the menu, and grill the waiter on every aspect of it!
But, you know what? From perusing the menu, ordering, him paying, (of course,) eating the delicious nuts they brought at the end, and even going to the ladies room and reapplying my several layers of lipstick, it was exactly forty-five minutes! I was there, doing it all, and I still don’t believe it!
On the other hand, my fabulous friend in Rhode Island, Alicia, was always late! Like you cannot even believe. I could never understand how everything took her so long. But here’s an experience I participated in, which actually confused me more. I was staying at her house, and we had to be someplace one night, and had a full four hours to get ready. Four! (Which is a lot.) We had already showered and done our hair and make-up, so there was not much left to do with that quartet of hours. All that had to be done was for her to heat up some quick dinner for her husband and kids, and for us to change our wardrobe. That’s all. I’m not exaggerating. The whole thing should have taken an hour, tops. But you know what? We wound-up being very late, and had to rush like lunatics! I was right there, witnessing us, and I can’t explain how that happened. (And no—we were not smoking weed! Nor drinking, which I don’t engage in, anyway.)
So, I decided that “time” has just got to be different for different people. There is no other explanation for it. And I try to pay attention to how everything plays out with others now. But those two times with Alicia and Mitch always bring that theory home for me.
*And finally (yay, right?,) here’s the link to that video of the little girl, whom I referenced earlier: www.facebook.com/Vronier/videos/889868501159053
Whew! This review is almost as long as The Encounter!!!