Simon McBurney Stars, Conceived, and Directs the Production
The Encounter has now officially opened at the John Golden Theatre, following its start of previews on September 20, 2016. This one-man show was deemed a New York Times Critics’ Pick by Ben Brantley, and will be running eight times a week until January 8, 2017. The one man in the show is played by Simon McBurney, who also conceived of and directs the play. On Wednesday matinees, his alternate Richard Katz steps in. The show was originally produced by McBurney’s London-based company, Complicite, which specializes in devised works based on found texts and incorporating strong movements. In this case, The Encounter is based on a book called Amazon Beaming written by Petru Popescu, which recounts the author’s three years of interviews with Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic photographer and journalist who traveled to the Amazon and had a series of encounters with Mayoruna Indians. In the theatrical rendition of The Encounter, a multi-sensory experience is evoked for the audience, who are each given a pair of headphones at their seat. In this way, McBurney’s voice reaches the audience from a multitude of directions, playing multiple characters including McIntyre, tribesmen, animals, and himself.
Without a doubt, the most influential theatre critic, Ben Brantley of The New York Times, was taken with the production. In addition to labeling it a Critics’ Pick, he calls the show “nonpareil” and states that it will leave you baffled, lightheaded, exhausted, and invigorated. Another positive review came from David Cote of Time Out New York, who called The Encounter a valid expression of rapture, remarking that closing one’s eyes with the headphones on in this play is not a sign of boredom, but rather a sign of being utterly transfixed. Other critics were less enthused, however. Matt Windman from AM New York was puzzled as to whether this was a play or a podcast, as he was less than blown over by the concept of wearing headphones in a Broadway theatre seat. Jeremy Gerard from Deadline praised the performance of McBurney, harking to his memorable roles in such films as Magic in the Moonlight and The Theory of Everything, and also called the show a “wonder.” Nonetheless, he did remark that he could not help but feel that this show may be a bit of a con, asking you to pay more attention to the technical wizardry than the story, and that it may have benefitted from more creative staging. As for Linda Winer from Newsday, she abhorred the concept of the headphones and gave the show a negative review.
A Less than Fabulous Start at the Box Office
In the three weeks that The Encounter has thus far been running, it has brought in an average of 45.39% of its gross potential. This number has stayed fairly consistent throughout the three weeks, varying only from a weekly gross of $297,917 in its second week, to $336,865 in its third week, with a first week comparable to its third. In general, this is a tricky sell for Broadway, given the experimental nature of the production and the less than household name status of the one actor, not to mention the generally tough sell of a one-man show. Fortunately, one-man shows also have lower running costs, and presumably, this show can afford to scoot by with less than superb weekly grosses. With the mixed reviews, it may have a difficult time picking up steam, although the kudos from The New York Times is sure to send some ticketbuyers to the box office.
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