they're saying about
HISTORY (And Mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE"
Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe'
Weiss, theater critic
Theatre is a small and intimate place. But you can almost feel
its roof levitating and its walls pushing outward to accommodate
the farthest galaxies--and the largest human thoughts--as actor
Ron Campbell leads us through "R. Buckminster Fuller: The History
(and Mystery) of the Universe."
de force one-man show, which had previous runs in San Diego and
San Francisco and opened Sunday to a rapt local crowd, is fueled
by an unusual mixture of personal passion and intellectual rigor.
As much a spiritual
and philosophical journey as a crash course in everything from physics
and 20th century technology to economics, sociology, education,
design and poetry, the show's emotional arc is so powerful that
its scientific elements, which are handled with tremendous sleight
of hand, become surprisingly accessible.
Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe
Through March 25
At the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport
Tickets, $25-$36. (773) 325-1700
this is a vivid portrait of a polymorphous humanist, a technological
visionary and an unrepentant American individualist--a man who
lets us know the workings of his heart, as well as his brain,
and whose mission in life was to search for the answer to that
biggest of all questions: What is the purpose of humanity, and
how do humans fit into the grand plan of nature, or, if you prefer,
God? In other words: How should we live?
us is a complex pattern of integrity," Fuller tells us. And by
figuring out ourselves, and taking our cues from nature, we will
which draws on the mountain of lectures, articles, books and other
writings that Fuller (1895-1983) left behind, has been shaped
into a magnificent theatrical vehicle by writer-director D.W.
Jacobs. A dense lacework of biographical data, and scientific,
moral, political and psychological theories, it is framed as one
of the galvanic lectures that Fuller was famous for giving. And
rather than demanding intense listening, it seduces you into a
receptive and ultimately deeply self-reflective state.
fervent, funny, heart-wrenchingly poignant and impeccably detailed
performance is driven by the quirky physicality of the one-man
dynamo he embodies--a man whose thoughts fed on every discipline,
whose conclusions often drew together disparate fields and whose
imagination seemed to propel him through space every bit as much
as his own feet. This also was a man who let his feelings, and
his hard-won sense of confidence in his own intuition and gifts
of observation and perception, lead the way.
On a hexagonal-shaped
stage, designed by Annie Smart, that suggests a geometric form
crucial to Fuller's thinking--and with the inventive use of lighting
(by David Lee Cuthbart), music and sound (Luis Perez) and video
(Dave Cannon)--Campbell dances his way through Fuller's ideas
as much as he speaks them. The momentum of a bicycle ride, a car
race, a sailing ship is made palpable. So are the discoveries
that come with such locomotion.
"Bucky's" slightly nerdy but endearing persona--close-cropped
haircut, old-fashioned suit (credit costume designer Darla Cash)
and all-important thick glasses--Campbell brilliantly mixes energizing
silences with infectious animation. And as befits Fuller's life--which
was one long rebellion against specialization--he delves into
everything from notions of scarcity to renewable resources, from
the role of money and pirates in history, to the essential geometric
forms key to his famous creation, the geodesic dome.
In the end,
however, it is love that proves to be the most powerful force
in the universe of R. Buckminster Fuller--love for a wife, children
and mankind itself. Beyond all the labels that have affixed themselves
to this fascinating man, "universal romantic" may be the most
Fuller: The History (and the Mystery) of the Universe."
By Jack Helbig
Daily Herald Correspondent
Feb 16, 2001
the most intelligent and insightful show currently running in
remember Buckminster Fuller. He was the guy who invented the geodesic
dome and coined the phrase "spaceship earth."He
had quite a following back in the '60s and early '70s, when he
would speak about the future at seminars and on college campuses.
By all accounts,
Bucky, as people called him, had an amazing presence. His ideas
were powerful. He wrote an essay in the very early '60s about
a world in which we all would communicate via small wireless phones.
This at a time when phones still had dials.
was a riveting speaker, who could engage an audience for hours.
His record was 42 hours straight, but in the 1930s, when he lived
in Greenwich Village, friends told of times when he would hang
out talking for three days straight.
It was only
a matter of time before someone got the bright idea of building
a solo show around the man. Lucky for us, that someone turned
out to be L.A.-based writer and director D.W. Jacobs. A fan of
Fuller's since 1968, Jacobs clearly understands Bucky's ideas
backwards and forwards. More importantly, Jacobs understood the
drama of Fuller's life, and spends much of the first act of this
two-hour show recounting Bucky's sometimes quite unlucky life.
a comfortable, educated New England family, Fuller spent most
of his life out of sync with his times. He flunked out of Harvard
- twice - because he found the classes boring and because he couldn't
fit into the snobby social scene. His first foray into business
came in the early '20s, selling a new kind of brick invented by
his father-in-law. It ended in disaster. The company was bought
out and Fuller and his father-in-law were tossed out on their
experience, Fuller turned his attention full time to doing exactly
what he loved doing: inventing the future. In the '20s he designed
plans for prefab homes. Architects and construction workers, alike,
were horrified. In the '30s, he created an aerodynamic car, the
Dymaxion, which ran on three wheels. That car might have been
a success if only it hadn't been involved in an automobile accident
- not Bucky's fault - that left the occupants of the other car
dead. Then, in the late '40s, early '50s, Fuller turned his attention
to the inventions we know him for: the various kinds of geodesic
domes. Jacobs recounts these misfortunes and triumphs without
pity or unnecessary melodrama.
Even if you
have heard these stories before - and every true Fuller aficionado
has heard some of them - you will still be drawn in. Especially
moving are the scenes when Jacob's show discusses 1927, the terrible,
amazing year Fuller failed in business, considered suicide, found
his calling, and began a two-year period of more or less complete
silence in which he tried to figure out exactly what he considered
to be true in the world.
lucky to have found an actor as capable as Ron Campbell to play
Fuller. Performing in Fuller's trademark dark suit and tie, wearing
the same square glasses Fuller preferred, Campbell seems every
inch the inspired, quirky Fuller. When he gets excited, Campbell
shakes the way Fuller shook, the ideas tumbling out of his mouth
at a speed that cannot help but excite the audience. Jacobs intentionally
structured the show to follow Fuller's own eccentric speaking
style. Fuller never used notes and never carefully structured
his presentations. Instead, he would just begin talking and eventually
his talks would wander into interesting territory. This was part
of made Fuller fascinating in the '60s. You never really knew
what he was going to say. Even if you read the essays Fuller distilled
from his talks ("Education Automation," "Utopia or Oblivion,"
"Critical Path"), you will see they have the same wandering, discursive
style. His talks feel less like lectures and more like talk-filled
walks in the woods.
But we are
less tolerant of digression today. We like our info packaged neatly,
with clear bullet points and lots of visual aids. Jacobs has addressed
some of this. Behind Campbell's performance, Jacobs flashes a
series of illustrations: photos of Fuller's family, drawings from
Fuller's sketchbooks, films of his inventions in action. Still,
there will be some who find Fuller's disjointed way of speaking
disconcerting. That will be their loss. "R. Buckminster Fuller:
The History (and Mystery) of the Universe" is easily the most
intelligent, most insightful and interesting show currently running
The Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago
Times: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday;
3 and 7 p.m. Sunday through March 25
Some parking on the street; paid lot available
Tickets: $29.50 to $36.50 Box office: (773) 325-1700