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A CurtainUp Review
R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe

Gravity doesn't have to think. —R. Buckminster Fuller
Buckminster Fuller
Thomas Derrah
(Photo: Marcus Stern)
If you've ever been to Epcot, you're familiar with the work of R. Buckminster Fuller. The inventor of the geodesic dome. Fuller, though not a household name, was one of the great scientific minds of the twentieth century. He was a bit of a Renaissance man: He was a writer, philosopher, mathematician, geometer, poet, architect, designer, environmentalist, and inventor. Besides inventing the geodesic dome, he taught poetry at Harvard (after being kicked out twice in his youth). His being so multi-faceted may account for his lack of name recognition — he simply did too much to become truly famous in any one area. Though he invented

Fuller was probably sixty years or more ahead of his time in his one true passion — eliminating waste, and protecting the earth from the ravages of men. He invented a showerhead that gave a full-body cleansing with only one cup of water, a fuel-efficient car that sat 11, and an energy-efficient, inexpensive pre-fab house. He wrote and lectured extensively on sustainability before that concept really existed.

So, okay, a pretty interesting guy. If, like me, you're new to R. Buckminster Fuller, you're probably wondering if this solo play is a good introduction to the man, unlike so many monologues which are more about the actor in question than the subject. My answer is an unqualified yes.

For me, ART's production was a more whimsical and much more delightful sort of documentary on the man, less about presenting facts and more about presenting the true nature of Fuller. Actor Thomas Derrah plays Fuller with a cheeky, subversive sense of humor (his abrupt "I have to go to the bathroom" as intermission segue brought the house down). He perfectly captures Fuller's manic energy and constantly spinning brain, and utilizes that energy to push the show at a breathless pace. Though the show clocks in at over two hours, the time flies by.

The exquisite design aids in that pacing, while paying tribute to the design capabilities of Fuller. David Lee Cuthbert's set is anchored by a circular platform, covered with a dreamy blue spiral, underneath a geodesic-inspired proscenium arch, with an absurdly tall ladderback chair. Around that are Fuller's classroom accoutrements — a chalkboard, an overhead projector, a table with a scroll of paper. Derrah moves effortlessly between the real e and the surreal elements (sometimes literally for Fuller was apt to dance publicly in strange ways in his later years),. Jim Findlay's video design gives us an integrated look at Fuller's drawings and plans. Overall, it's a production rich in sensory detail.

I do wish there'd been a little more about the man's non-geodesic dome inventions. But that's an incredibly minor quibble about what is otherwise an intellectually and visually stimulating. It made me want to run out and read a book about R. Buckminster Fuller, buy his Dymaxion globe, and live in his energy-efficient house. Not a bad result for an evening's entertainment.

R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe
Written and directed by D.W. Jacobs
Performed by Thomas Derrah
Set and Lighting Design: David Lee Cuthbert
Composer and Sound Design: Luis Perez
Costume Design: Darla Cash
Video Design: Jim Findlay
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission
American Repertory Theater; Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge MA
Tickets begin at $25
Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm
January 14 - February 5, 2011
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman Boomershine based on January 23rd performance
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