R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe: Solo drama. Written and directed by D.W. Jacobs. Through Feb. 23. $29-$74. San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. (408) 367-7255. www.sjrep.com.
It takes a certain kind of genius to make genius entertaining, and that’s what Ron Campbell does in D.W. Jacobs’ “R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe” for nearly 2 1/2 hours.
Fuller as played by Campbell is still getting excited over icosahedrons and vector equilibrium and “ephemeralization” (doing more and more with less and less), much the way he did when we first encountered him in this beguiling solo drama 14 years ago in San Francisco. Now the show is at San Jose Repertory Theatre in the heart of Silicon Valley to preach Fuller’s gospel of saving his “Spaceship Earth.”
Campbell renders Fuller’s complex ideas clear and compelling, often imbued with the touch of a poet. There are moments when he demonstrates the elegance of a dancer and the precision movement of a mime, but just as often the lanky Bucky, as he was known as, is gangly and awkward. Campbell dazzled 14 years ago, and if anything, he seems to feel it even more deeply to the extent that we can almost feel Bucky thinking.
Sometimes watching Campbell move and listening to him talk brings to mind Jimmy Stewart crossed with Albert Einstein (who was apparently a fan of Fuller’s). What really comes through in Campbell’s Bucky, though, is grace and wonder and the integrity of original thought.
Combining the life, writing and work of Fuller – who died in 1983 at age 87 a forward-thinking inventor, philosopher, architect and all-around smart guy – writer-director Jacobs’ “History” works as a lecture demonstration of Fuller’s extraordinary mind as well as a theatrical examination of genius devoted to practical use and the serving of others.
Jacobs enlivens the science with the use of projected video (Jim Findlay‘s designs are much more elaborate than they were more than a decade ago). He also has selected bits of biography carefully – kicked out of Harvard twice, suffered the loss of his firstborn daughter, contemplated suicide in the face of constant failure – and balances them nicely with all the scientific and philosophical material.
The set, by David Lee Cuthbert, is much as it was: a chair, a scribbled-on chalkboard, geometric models on a table and a Victrola. All of this serves as Bucky’s playground as he convinces us – and quite effectively – that looking to nature and patterns in nature can provide answers to the world’s problems. It’s not that everyone living in a Fuller geodesic dome home would cure all ills, but if we can get beyond all the man-made madness, there are resources and technologies to provide every person on the planet with food, water and quality of life.
Even at two acts and more than two hours, there’s plenty about Fuller’s life and work that goes unaddressed, but this is still a generous helping of Bucky’s beautiful mind as well as Campbell’s still-stunning performance.