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THEATER REVIEW: "R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (And Mystery) Of The Universe"

What do you call a guy who claims that the entire population of the earth “could live compactly on a properly designed Haiti and comfortably on the British Isles”?

Visionary? Crackpot? No, it’s just polymath R. Buckminster Fuller, scientist extraordinaire with perhaps a few wild ideas about man’s capabilities, who described himself as “an engineer, inventor, mathematician, architect, cartographer, philosopher, poet, cosmogonist, comprehensive designer and choreographer.”

San Diego Repertory Theatre brings back a short-run blast from the past to celebrate its 40th anniversary season. D.W. Jacobs, co-founder with Sam Woodhouse of San Diego Rep, wrote the piece 16 years ago.

Now Jacobs is back to direct Ron Campbell in the part he originated and has been playing around the country ever since.

Fuller was the author of 30 books, holder of some 25 patents and recipient of 47 honorary degrees. The play is structured as a lecture in which he explains some of his ideas.

“Bucky” was way ahead of today’s concerns with the environment and sustainability. He designed the Dymaxion House, an inexpensive, mass-produced home that could be airlifted to its location. He imagined huge offshore floating cities that could house thousands in little space.

In 1945, he patented the Dymaxion Air-Ocean Map,the only flat map of the entire surface of the earth, which shows earth as one land mass in one ocean.

But he’s probably best known for the design of the geodesic dome – a low-cost, easy-to-assemble house built on the geometric principle of the icosahedron, which saved space because its shape does not require supporting columns.

His geodesic dome housing the U.S. pavilion at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal is probably the best known example.

I remember being totally enthralled with the show 16 years ago. But times and people change, and this time around I found the show too long (at nearly 2-1/2 hours) and much too technical for my paltry science background to get a handle on.

The show is best when Bucky reveals his personal story: being tossed out of Harvard twice for “cutting classes and general irresponsibility;” being so distraught at the death of his first daughter on her fourth birthday that he considered suicide; deciding to spend two years “rebuilding himself” (which meant not talking to anyone, even his wife and second daughter Allegra, during that time).

But the show is mostly concerned with his ideas. David Lee Cuthbert’s set sports a blackboard crammed with illegible and incomprehensible squiggles. When he wants to illustrate something, he erases only a tiny corner of that board in order to write more illegible scribbles. Luis Perez Ixoneztli’s sound design and Jim Findlay’s projections do not add value.

Campbell does an excellent job of inhabiting Fuller’s seemingly rather uncomfortable persona. Perhaps that’s the nature of genius.

The Details

“R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (And Mystery) Of The Universe” plays through April 10, 2016 at San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza, in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Showtimes are: Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 7 pm; Matinees April 2, at 4 pm, April 3rd, 9th and 10th, at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or sdrep.org