Is this a play or a podcast?
The fall Broadway season starts off in a most unusual way with “The Encounter,” an audio-intensive solo show in which each audience member receives his or her own pair of headphones and listens to sonic effects and muddled storytelling for two straight hours.
On an empty stage that resembles a recording studio, English actor Simon McBurney begins by awkwardly expounding on reality, storytelling and time. He also introduces the various microphones (including one shaped like a human head) that will allow him to fully control and manipulate our listening experience.
McBurney, who conceived and directed the show, too, then launches into a monologue about the adventure saga of an American photojournalist who gets lost in the overwhelmingly humid Amazon rainforest and finds himself at the mercy of a remote jungle tribe that he cannot communicate with.
“The Encounter” resembles an immersive, sensory take on the old-fashioned radio play, with multiple voices, heavy breathing and other sounds fully engulfing the listener. But after a while, the novelty wears off and you are left with unending bits of description and psychological contemplation.
You can’t help but wonder whether “The Encounter” was really meant to be experienced live in a Broadway theater. After all, what is there to see besides a handful of lighting effects and McBurney sitting at a desk and fiddling around with audio equipment? Wouldn’t it make more sense (and be more cost effective) to listen to the piece with your own headphones on your own time?
If you go: “The Encounter” runs through Jan. 8 at the John Golden Theatre. 252 W. 45th St., theencounterbroadway.com.