Hearing is believing in the mind-blowing experience of “The Encounter.”
This hypnotic Complicite theater troupe production eventually casts a spell on all your senses, conjuring up a visceral full-body enchantment. But the magic of this insanely inventive theatrical ritual begins with the ears.
Sitting down in the theater you discover a small pair of headphones. That basic piece of technology, and the binaural microphone on stage, transforms a single actor wandering about a stage cluttered with water bottles into an odyssey into the deepest mysteries of the Amazon basin, a verdant oasis endangered by plunderers and polluters.
Steeped in Petru Popescu’s book “Amazon Beaming,” this amazing “Encounter” plunges us deep into the Brazilian rainforest for a hypnotic 2 hours that touches on the secrets of death and life and time itself. Fresh from a Broadway run, this amazing journey into the primal runs through May 7 as part of the daring new Curran series.
Simon McBurney is the guide, a theatrical shaman filling our heads with the sights and sounds of this harrowing trek into the glowing phosphorescent green of the forest as well as the details of life at home, including the never-ending interruptions of his 5-year-old daughter.
When he whispers softly in the left ear of the binaural microphone, a disembodied head on a pole, we hear a voice at our shoulder. You know nobody’s there but it’s still hard to resist the impulse to whirl around. Through this elusive connection, this messing with our minds, McBurney leads the way on a dizzying aural journey that touches the mind and the heart with its trance-like power.
Bridging the puzzle of the past with the gadgets of the now is part of McBurney’s wizardry. His father was an archaeologist and he’s always been smitten with the mysteries of history.
Here he goes chasing after a tribe living unsullied by first contact, a people who worship the throb of animal spirits, cleansing by fire and an old language that transcends words.
He channels the spirit of Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic photojournalist who tracked down the Mayoruna, a clan living in near total isolation from the outside world in 1969. Alas, he was so greedy for the perfect shot that he forgot to leave a trail and couldn’t find his way back to civilization.
Marooned in a void of 400 square miles of labyrinthine rainforest, teeming with predators trying to eat you alive, he had to become part of the tribe and rely on the protection of the chief, whom he dubs Barnacle, to survive.
The Mayoruna, known as cat people because they believe they are descended from jaguars and sport spiky whisker piercings, spoke no tongue he understood. And yet somehow over time he forged a strange connection with the headman.
Part journalistic adventure, part radio play, this is a show it’s tempting to intellectualize. Don’t. Instead close your eyes and succumb to the masterful alchemy of sound. Feel the forest, sense the wildlife and before you know it, McIntyre is not the only one having a transformative experience of the primal. Immersed in a shimmering cocoon of sound, we are too.
Directed and performed by Simon McBurney, presented by Complicite theater company
Through: May 7
Where: The Curran, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
Running time: just under two hours, no intermission
Details: $49-$129; 415-358-1220, sfcurran.com