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R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe

American Repertory Theater

Written and directed by D.W. Jacobs

Starring Thomas Derrah

Multiple showings until
February 4

When I invited a friend to see the play with me, he asked me who R. Buckminster Fuller was. My response was, “He’s an architect, some kind of engineer … I think.”

“You think?”

All I knew about Fuller was that he was the designer of the geodesic dome and the origin of the names buckyball, fullerene, and buckminsterfullerene. I wanted to see the play to learn more about R. Buckminster Fuller.

But it ended up telling me more than I expected.

I felt as if I had entered a different world when I arrived at the American Repertory Theater. The lobby was fully decorated with mathematical equations, octahedrons, tetrahedrons and the like on the windows, and framed pictures of beautiful geodesic spheres by the ticket area. The atmosphere of the theater resembles a giant lecture room; one filled with warmth, personality, inspiration, and geometric shapes.

The play gave me a two-hour exploration of the eccentric and delightful world of Fuller’s mind.

R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe is a one-person show based on the life, work, and writings of Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983). Thomas Derrah’s role depicts Fuller as the night’s guest speaker who wants to share his life story — from his family to discoveries, from contemplation on nature as the solution to all designs to his perspectives on socioeconomic issues. It was an interesting performance: Derrah had to effectively deliver not only the human emotions and character of Fuller, but also the engineer-scientist-mathematician-mind. Derrah immersed himself in the world of Fuller as he recited line after line about synergy and beautiful physical structures. He moved around like a child, both physically and mentally — imaginative, independent, curious. Derrah’s performance made me wish I could meet the real Fuller when he was still alive.

The introduction about Fuller’s childhood revealed his fascination with nature and natural intuition. His independence from all constraints imposed artificially by others foreshadows events in his life, including two expulsions from Harvard.

As far as humor is concerned, MIT students may appreciate some of it more than the rest of the audience. Jokes about gravity and pi made me feel at home. Derrah also engaged the audience, inviting them to sing along with him, to stand up and feel the earth rotate at 23 degrees off the axis with him. Occasionally, an impassioned Derrah moved around while speaking, the stage resembling an acid trip with floating tensegrity structures. What a great visual representation of Fuller’s captivation.

The most important experience I took from the play was Fuller’s life philosophy. After becoming unemployed and depressed before the start of his successful career as a revolutionary inventor, Fuller ponders: “What can one penniless person do on behalf of humanity?” Such a question would prompt any person to live and work to their full potential. Fuller was an engineer and a scientist, but for the sake of something larger. He focused on the responsibility of scientific revolution and technology to make the world a better place: “We are here for problem-solving. Not to have problems out of the way in some stupid, sublime something called peace. We’re here strictly for problem-solving, and the better you get at it, the more problems you’re going to get to solve.”

One warning: A hundred minutes of fluid monologue, no matter how worthy of your attention, might turn baffling and soporific. A cup of coffee during the intermission might solve that problem.

Derrah portrayed Fuller as a visionary, a designer of not only physical creations but also of ideas, his own life, the world, and the future. But whatever he was, I gained so much respect for this man without having to read a single book about him. I am grateful for the two hours of entertainment, education, and for the opportunity to meet him, even as a character in a play. This is one of the many lines in the play that I will keep close to my heart for the rest of my life: “You don’t belong to you, you belong to the Universe.”

Tip: Go online to look at the show times, but do not buy the tickets. Student Rush promises great seating for only $15. All you have to do is get there 15 minutes before the play.