The power of theater to transform was fully evident in Joe Spano’s stunning performance as R. Buckminster Fuller, a brilliant 20th-century inventor, intellectual, and visionary. The two-hour show evoked Fuller’s artistry as it wove seemingly unrelated threads of science, philosophy, personal anecdotes, and spiritual musings into a unified whole. For Fuller, everything was synergy, with the world interconnected by patterns, just like his famous invention, the geodesic dome. D.W. Jacobs directed the piece accordingly-as dynamic, multimedia stream-of-consciousness. The experience was comparable to that of listening to Beethoven’s symphonies: intense, lyrical, and profound.
The show’s scientific lecture format was also a meditation on what it means to be human. The spiritual dimension of Fuller’s thought was felt throughout, most notably in his gentle reminder that we are all passengers on the Spaceship Earth who must be “compassionately attuned to others.” Such values as love, beauty, and truth were depicted as a part of a triangular pattern, projected on a large screen behind him. As Fuller, Spano involved the audience by dancing, singing, leaping, and even asking everyone to stand up and stretch their arms-in order to feel the Earth slowly orbit. Spano captured all the nuances of Fuller’s speech, including his idiosyncrasies and gesticulations, thus blurring the boundary between the real and the imaginary.
To further create the effect of a classroom, a chalkboard, globe, overhead projector, and a plethora of geometric desk models were all used during his lecture. Referring to children whose intuitive intelligence is “de-geniusized” in adulthood, Fuller engaged playfully in a game with large triangles, transforming them effortlessly into new designs while stepping in and out of them. The triangle thus symbolized divergent thinking, with Fuller inviting all to re-conceptualize the way they solved problems. During a dramatic gesture of erasing a board filled with mathematical formulas, Fuller reminisced about the most important realization in his life. To become a true individual, he had to start with a clean board, followed by a two-year incubation process during which he was “mute.”
The courage it took for Fuller to live with integrity while there was no hope for him of recognition or financial reward is the most moving aspect of this piece. The History (and Mystery) of the Universe delivers an inspiring message: to approach life with a childlike wonder, experiencing it fully and authentically. Perhaps more urgently than ever before, we should hear Fuller’s call for transformation.