Watching ron campbell play Iago or Richard II or any of the other colorful lunatics he is so adept at portraying is always a joy. Watching him breathe creative life into a small, eccentric nerd like R. Buckminster Fuller is to be privy to the artistic process at its most fascinating stage: the point where it takes on something of real life—its own life.
R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe is a one-man show conceived by D.W. Jacobs about the life and ideas of Fuller, one of the most fascinating and inspirational minds of the past century. But don't call it straight biography. It's more hagiography. Experience this two-hour performance, and you're likely to join the growing crowd pushing for his canonization.
Though richly entertaining and often quite funny, this is also a night filled with big, bold, and, most gratifying, keenly relevant and important ideas. Thanks to Campbell's graceful, intelligent performance and Jacobs' sweet, passionately conceived adaptation of Fuller's ideas, St. Bucky makes perfect sense.
Fuller was many things —inventor, philosopher, scientist, social critic, environmentalist—but the sense you get from this production is that he was, above all else, a man devoted to changing his world. It was his life's work to inspire people to think clearly and honestly and then set their lives to fixing that which most needs fixing. And for Fuller, that meant staving off global extinction.
The performance and writing are helped considerably by the use of an overhead projector and models of Fuller's work. The visual aids help make this as fun and thought-provoking a lecture as you could possibly imagine.
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Like a lecture, it's a bit long. Trimming this from a two-hour full-length to a 90-minute one-act might make sense. The second act doesn't have the charm or easygoing grace of the first, and an extended condemnation of capitalism may be politically right-on, but it feels too simplistic for a man of Fuller's intellect and perspective. But that's small criticism for a play that so skillfully blends metaphysics, hard science and imagination.
Fuller didn't make Time's list of the 100 greatest minds of the 20th century. But after experiencing this play, you can't shake the feeling that his main idea—that we have the technology to do more with less and the power to create a world in which selfishness is unnecessary and war is obsolete—could very well be the Great Idea of the 21st century. At least, it had better be. For though Fuller was a utopian, his optimism was rooted in the cold, hard facts of what we're doing to this planet and to one another. But, as this play suggests time and time again, we can choose to change that course, a choice that can only be made by individuals, not political or economic systems.
In other words, let's get off our asses and do something. Hell, let's do everything. For starters, we can all see this play, one of those rare pieces of theater that really can be called inspiring.
R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe at San Diego Repertory Theater, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego, (619) 231-3586. Tues., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (no evening performance on April 23). Through April 23. $27-$34.