Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe
Brilliant Performance Channels Bucky
San Jose Repertory Theatre

Also see Richard's reviews of Clybourne Park and Paris Letter, Jerusalem and Man in a Case

Ron Campbell
R. Buckminster Fuller, scientist, philosopher, architect, designer, poet, educator, and engineer, hailed by Marshall McLuhan as the "Leonardo Da Vinci of our time," forever changed the way we perceive the earth, ourselves, and even the vast universe. His importance in spheres of environmental and global thought cannot be overestimated, and it's good to remind us all of his groundbreaking discoveries and philosophies. The inspiring one-man play by D. W. Jacobs currently playing San Jose Repertory Theatre manages to deliver the significant precepts of Fuller's life's work as well as capture the glorious eccentricity, melancholy, and originality of the man himself, through a truly captivating performance by Ron Campbell.

Jacobs wrote the play 14 years ago, ostensibly to celebrate Fuller's life at a time when we needed to remember him and his admonitions about waste and war. Jacobs has directed the play in regional theatres all over the country since then, a bit of evangelism about the great thinker's oeuvre, whom he once heard speak in a college lecture. Actor Ron Campbell, who has played the role before, reprises his characterization for the Rep's production, seamlessly "becoming" Fuller with all his idiosyncrasies, enthusiasm and passion.

And passionate he was. Don't for a minute imagine that this show might be too much of a boring lecture—far from it. Campbell and Jacobs keep us engaged with surprising physicality, lively debates, a variety of visual delights, and even some enjoyable audience participation. There's a fine-honed balance among biography, science, and philosophy, frequently moving from description of one of Fuller's discoveries or inventions into the realm of feeling, with appeals to our common humanity.

Therein lies the heart of the piece, returned to again and again, but brought home most compellingly toward the end—that we now have the capability of feeding and caring for every single human being on the planet, and a moral mandate to do so; the wrenching truth that we continue to war and behave selfishly is untenable, to Fuller, especially given the finite resources of our "Spaceship Earth." All of his science, all of his research, ultimately points to a compassionate and loving resolution, a plea for thinking globally and as a species intertwined with all existence, instead of as individuals or countries. Fascinated by the theories and concepts, suddenly we are immersed in a moving, poignant, and motivating appeal that enlists both our intelligence and our spirit.

Jim Findlay's video designs and set and lights by David Lee Cuthbert beautifully flesh out the production, providing a tremendous variety of platforms and visuals for Campbell's perpetual movement. Campbell's long and lean physicality recalls Fuller's, sometimes elegant and precise, sometimes awkward and youthful, always entertaining. "Tour de force" is not too strong a description here.

Don't miss this brilliant, stunning performance, illuminating one of the most important figures of recent history. Well worth the two hours' time, it just may be the inspiration we all need for a new century.

R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe by D. W. Jacobs, presented by San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo De San Antonio, San Jose; through February 23. Tickets $15-$53, available at 408-367-7255 or at

Photo: Kevin Bern

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Jeanie K. Smith

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