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Having a Ball in Fuller's Universe

Campbell is remarkable in `Buckminster'

Saturday, July 15, 2000

WILD APPLAUSE R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER: THE HISTORY (AND MYSTERY) OF THE UNIVERSE: One-man show starring Ron Campbell. Written and directed by D.W. Jacobs. (Through August 13. Staged by At the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter St., San Francisco. (415) 392-4400.)

At the very least, ``R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe'' is like the best college lecture anyone could ever hope to attend. Though its title might make one brace for an arid and abstract evening, the show is emotionally full and not at all dry. It's inspiring and invigorating.

Based on the writings of R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), the engineer, philosopher and utopian thinker, the play is presented by at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre as a lecture, in two acts, in which Fuller expounds on his life and ideas. Fuller is not presented as a geek. Rather, he is supercharged, an informed and passionate being applying the formidable engine of his brain to the task of reuniting the arts and the sciences.

His goal is nothing less than bringing about the peaceable kingdom. What gives the show dimension and heart is that Fuller is shown to have been neither naive nor impervious to sorrow. The death of his young daughter sends him into despair, and his early failure in business leaves him suicidal. Late in the show, Fuller mentions that his wife is ``very sick,'' and that one line hints at a whole world of sadness.

Fuller's optimism is not a matter of disposition but of choice. He chooses to have faith and to steer clear of the fear and irrationality that governs so much of human nature. That choice makes him not just intellectually interesting but heroic. The role calls for a heroic performance, and it gets one from the remarkable Ron Campbell, who, for nearly two hours, plays a man whose mind is firing away at full speed. With a sure sense of tempo and variety, he drives the show -- one can almost see the flood of thought that's carrying him. Yet despite that flood, Campbell always conveys a quality of taking in the audience, with compassion and clarity.

He also moves beautifully. Pacing the stage, carting out models or demonstrating tai chi, Campbell is a pleasure to look at. It's hard to imagine a better one-man performance.

The show, which premiered earlier this year at San Diego Repertory Theatre, has been staged with painstaking intelligence. Writer-director D.W. Jacobs balances image, sound and visual display so that every moment is alive, and some moments are quite powerful -- as when Fuller stands in front of a screen showing mushrooming nuclear clouds.

There's one false note, and that should go immediately: The show closes with the song ``Fool on the Hill,'' a bit of '60s hokum that trivializes Fuller and is more sentimental than this subtle show deserves.

E-mail Mick LaSalle at

This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Updated: 2016/06/30

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