When I was in school, the Ohio farmlands roundabout were studded with geodesic domes inspired by “Bucky” Buckminster Fuller. People from the college who wore beads and long hair lived in them. Sometimes they had purchased the farm and the domes were part of an entire experiment in experimental living. Sometimes they paid the curious farmer a nominal rent.
We were hippies, and assumed the domes and other things attached to the Fuller name would pass when Flower Power and bell-bottoms did. I hoped not. There was something sunny in Fuller’s theories, something which did not take itself or high academia too seriously. Was he joking?
No, it turns out, he wasn’t joking. He was joyful with discovery.
So it was with exhilarated remembrance that I watched D.S Jacobs’ R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe at N.C. Stage. It was like the first day of school, going back to pure and undiscriminating perception. Someone speaks the truth and you believe it. Someone demonstrates the truth and you say, “Yes! Of course! I should have seen it on my own!” Geometry is poetry. Physics is a fugue played on the organ that is all the world. There is no hierarchy of perception: what you see to be true is true, and authority be damned.
One does not normally go to the theater to learn things so directly. One goes for entertainment, right? I had forgotten how entertaining information can be.
Fuller’s originality of thought concedes to the listener the dignity of his own originality, assuming that, shown the beautiful truth, we in the audience will see and believe. A love child of poetry and science, the play recalls those bygone days when everything was news and one listened with open and undoubting ear.
I don’t want to say that this is the best thing that ever happened at N.C. Stage, but I will be bold to declare it a most unique and unexpected triumph. I anticipated something sober, noble, serious and a little boring. What I got what an evening not only bountiful in itself, but one which is redefining what I expect from an experience in the theater. In the future I will expect to be awakened and informed and remade, not merely amused.
I thought at first I was going to have something to say about genre. Why is this a play and not an essay, or a lecture? Where is characterization? Where is plot and growth? Well, it IS a lecture, but the best lecture in the world, the one every professor wishes to have delivered before he dies. No one falls asleep. No one takes notes. You sit there with mouth and mind open. You don’t even care that you don’t understand everything. It all resounds of truth, and you can come back and pick up the details when the big chunks are digested. The hero is you, sitting in the dark listening, and the plot is your own moving forward from conventional acceptance to personal revelation. The one who has grown through the action (which is inward and cerebral) is you, and you’re better fit to live in this world because of it.
N.C. Stage’s R. Buckminster Fuller is a testament of the open mind. Lone actor David Novak masters the complicated task of keeping an audience on the edge of its seat while, essentially, sharing scientific observations. There is no action to speak of. The evening manages, nevertheless, to be riveting, because learning is itself action, among the most intimate of all actions. Fuller strides onto the stage with the intention of giving us a universe remade without bias or preconception.
“You have been deceived,” he says, “but don’t feel too bad; so have I.” He’s the Pied Piper, and the village he’s piping us from is Ignorance.
Don’t believe all that can be accomplished by one actor, some able directing and a sensational set? Then what you must do is come see this R. Buckminster Fuller, early, so there is time to come back and see it again. You must bring your friends, so you can talk about it over drinks afterward. You must bring your children. They will get it better than you do, having less far to retreat from misinformation. Most of all, you must do yourself the favor of putting on Bucky’s inch-thick glasses and looking at the world with is eyes through two extraordinary acts.
The unmissable R. Buckminster Fuller plays at N.C. Stage through Oct. 7. Get the full schedule and buy tickets here.