An Ode to Bucky
Posted on February 6, 2011
I’m pretty sure the ability to memorize declines with age or at least it has in my case. So it was with amazement that we yesterday sat through a one-man show starring Thomas Derrah in the ART’s R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe. We loved Derrah as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret (yes, Fraulein), but as the sole actor yesterday he turned in a tour de force performance with more than two hours of monologue. Not easy monologue — he covered design, physics, philosophy, business, sustainability, politics, and more.
He rarely stopped moving and went from sketching on the blackboard and overhead projector to dancing to manipulating geometric structures to reciting poetry to standing in the aisles and engaging the audience. All the while, the brilliant staging used audiovisual and graphic elements to add drama and resonance, though Derrah might have easily carried the drama by himself. He was that convincing and charming as Bucky.
I have to confess that my knowledge of Fuller was limited coming into the play. Like most people, I know he was connected to the geodesic dome, had coined the phrase “Spaceship Earth,” and had seen his Dymaxion Map of the world. But little else. I left the play not only taken with Fuller, but persuaded of his relevancy and importance to our age (born in 1895, he lived until 1983). His ideas about system thinking and engineering, sustainability, the inter-connectedness of the world’s parts, the ethical obligation to the Earth, the inability of politicians to forge long-term and systems-based solutions to the world’s problems — they all resonated with us and make more sense than ever.
For all the ideas paraded across the stage, the delight of the play remains throughout Derrah’s fine performance. I highly recommend seeing the play. On a side note, just as when we saw Copenhagen (about the famous meeting of the great physicists Bohr and Heisenberg)performed at the ART last year, a good many of the patrons looked either like destitute and maybe even homeless people or the Physics faculty from nearby Harvard and MIT. Judging from the laughs at the Physics-related lines and overheard conversations during intermission (“I remember when Bohr said to me….”), I am pretty sure it was the latter group attending both Copenhagen and yesterday’s play. Such brilliant minds, so little brain power allotted to personal grooming and fashion (Fashion? These guys were dreaming about fashion — I’m not sure one guy has his pants on forward). Catty, I know.
Finally, the other thing I liked about the play, or more properly about Bucky, was his optimism. Most of our big problems are created by humans, so most of them should be fixable with human solutions. In a time when so many issues seem complicated, entrenched, and intractable, a little bracing dose of Bucky was just what was needed on a winter Saturday afternoon.