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THEATER REVIEW

A one-man think tank

'Fuller' at Ventura's Rubicon catches the man's energy without delving too deep.

January 23, 2008|David Ng | Times Staff Writer

Among the many predictions made by R. Buckminster Fuller during his career was the belief that political parties would become extinct by the year 2000. More hopeful than naive, Fuller was the kind of philosopher who was clearly unafraid of making bold and potentially foolish proclamations.

It's a shame more of his intrepid spirit doesn't find its way into "R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe," currently at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. (The play was first produced at San Diego Repertory in 2000.) Written and directed by D.W. Jacobs, this one-man drama is mainly a showcase for Joe Spano, who incarnates the bespectacled theorist with an abundance of quirky humanism.

His version of Fuller is safely likable -- more an absent-minded professor than one of the 20th century's most formidable intellectuals.

The play takes the form of a classroom lecture, complete with chalkboard and overhead projector. Fuller holds forth on a number of his pet obsessions, including the theory of ephemeralization ("doing more with less and less"), the mysteries of pi and, above all, his groundbreaking work with the geodesic dome.

It would be an understatement to call the play digressive. The whole thing is digression. The professor ricochets from one idea to another as if on some intellectual version of speed. You almost wish there was a course syllabus he could follow. The real subject of the play isn't necessarily Fuller's beliefs, but the manic fashion in which he formed those beliefs. His life was a sprawling, messy brainstorm, and so too is this play.

Fuller occasionally provides details of his personal life. We hear anecdotes about his survival as a young man during the Great Depression. More memorably, we learn about his family, including a few stories about his daughter, Allegra. (A video projection featuring home movies and other footage plays continuously in the background.)

But the play always segues back to Fuller's inner intellectual life, which Spano manages to make entertaining and accessible for us. Best known for his work on TV's "Hill Street Blues," Spano is on stage for the play's entire duration and his energy seldom flags.

"R. Buckminster Fuller" belongs to the genre of theater that dissects famous historical figures for maximum psychological revelation. But unlike "Tru" (about Truman Capote) and "Secret Honor" (about Richard Nixon), this play exempts its hero from the sharpest scalpels, allowing his darker side to go unexamined. (The play was produced with the cooperation of the Fuller estate.)

In the end, the play amounts to a glowing heap of New Age-isms and pseudo-scientific generalities that are pleasing to the ear but yield little insight upon further reflection.

Some of it is even mildly embarrassing. In one scene, Fuller performs an interpretive dance to illustrate an abstract molecular concept. (The Philip Glass-inspired score is by Luis Perez.)

The scene that best encapsulates the play, albeit unintentionally, occurs when Fuller erases a chalkboard filled with ideas and then blows on the eraser creating a cloud of dust. The play similarly reduces a complicated life into something that is momentarily captivating but ultimately insubstantial.

david.ng@latimes.com

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'R. Buckminster Fuller'

Where: Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays

Ends: Feb. 10

Price: $29 to $52

Contact: (805) 667-2900 or www .rubicontheatre.org

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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