“There” is an Amazon jungle, where in 1969 an American photojournalist, Loren McIntyre, went in search of an elusive tribe, the Mayoruna people who, entirely isolated from the rest of the world, lived and hunted much as their forbears did for thousands of years. McBurney adapts his story from a 1991 book, “Amazon Beaming,” by Petru Popescu, that recounts McIntyre’s experience of stumbling upon the tribe and developing enough trust to be allowed to accompany its members on a ritualistic journey of redemption, to what they called “The Beginning.”
As McBurney unfolds the story with the help of expert designers — Gareth Fry and Peter Malkin (sound); Paul Anderson (lighting) and Will Duke (projections) — your curiosity about an evening of anthropology will prove critical to your level of pleasurable takeaway. Those deriving little simulation from learning the customs of a people who live in diametric opposition to us urbane types, may find themselves drifting off during the intermission-less show. It didn’t happen to me. On the contrary: even at the moments when “The Encounter” tiptoes up to save-the-rain-forest sort of advocacy, I found myself completely absorbed.
A goodly portion of “The Encounter” is concerned with the wryly appealing McBurney speaking in the guise of McIntyre and describing his halting efforts to communicate with and befriend the wary Mayoruna, a process that inevitably leads to mishaps and misunderstandings. The photographer awakes one morning to find, for example, that the young men of the tribe have set his sneakers ablaze; McBurney recounts another occasion on which a shaman seeks to cast a spell on McIntyre, and the photographer improvises a response, running a frenzied circle around the tribespeople to cast a spell of his own.
In essence, though, “The Encounter” is a demonstration of the power of technology to immerse us ever more thrillingly in narrative art. Early in the proceedings, McBurney blows gently into one of his super-sensitive microphones — and darned if we don’t think we feel the warmth of his breath on our ears. It seems as if the entire “Encounter” — with the help of the actor-director’s refined talent for mimicry — is being whispered to you and you alone. It’s a bedtime story bedazzled by 21st Century engineering about a people embedded in a way of life from centuries past.
McBurney launched “The Encounter” earlier this year in London; another unique product (of zanier imaginations) from across the Atlantic is running 14 blocks north of Complicite’s show, at off-Broadway’s 59E59 Theaters. It’s called “Bears in Space,” and it is as low-tech and divorced from earthly concerns as “The Encounter” is gizmo-oriented and rooted in the tropical zone of our own planet.
Which is to say it’s an otherworldly hoot. Four actors from Ireland’s Collapsing Horse company manipulate charmingly ragtag animal puppets to tell a sci-fi story that’s equal parts “Winnie the Pooh” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” The performers — Jack Gleeson, Aaron Heffernan, Cameron Macaulay and Eoghan Quinn — are esteemed graduates of the School of Antic Postmodernism; their ingenuity comes by way of such other silly people of yore as Monty Python, and of more recent vintage, as Flight of the Conchords. In any event, an hour with the fluffy little heroes — who all look as if they’ve rescued from a moldering toy chest — leaves you feeling the universe has been kept safe for funny business.
The Encounter, directed and performed by Simon McBurney. Set, Michael Levine; sound, Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin; lighting, Paul Anderson; projections, Will Duke. About 1 hour 50 minutes. Tickets, $79-$250. At Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., New York. Visit telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.
Bears in Space, by Eoghan Quinn. Directed by Dan Colley. Puppets, Aaron Heffernan; sound and music, Cameron Macaulay; lighting, Abigail Hoke-Brady. About 1 hour 10 minutes. Through Sunday at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., New York. Remaining performances sold out. Visit 59e59.org.