Bucky’s One-Man Show

The other night I was taken, by some friends and some of my teachers, to the one-man show on Buckminster Fuller now happening at the Loeb Theater in Boston.

This was double nostalgia for me, as the Loeb was my home-away-from-dorm when I was an undergraduate at Harvard.  The Ex (experimental theater) was open, and I walked in to that same black room 40 years later to a rush of memories – this is where we staged the mystery plays (I played God, among other roles), and where I staged my own multi-media show at the end of my sophomore year.  Sophomoric it was – a mix of Beyond the Fringe satire, drug-induced and Living Theater-influenced silent dance bits, and a break in the middle where we distributed Popsicles to everyone.  Revolutionary theater – just like all the rest of that revolutionary theater in those days.  Such conformity in our non-conformity.

I couldn’t get upstairs to the rehearsal rooms where we did ensemble work with Dan Seltzer, my first guru.  Dan was a troubled man with bulbous eyes, sensuous lips, and a toad’s body – big head, thick neck, large torso, small limbs – but boy, could he act, and boy, could he bring it out in us.  We did wonderful warm-ups, Viola Spolin / peter Brook / Jerzy Grotowski style, and then did scene work – three nights a week and no credit; quite a commitment for us overburdened undergrads.  After I left, Dan switched to Princeton and then, so I hear, took his own life, which was a waste of good talent.  But he was a gay man in a culture that – even then, in the 60’s, with liberation flowing from every vein – kept him closeted.

As a doctor manqué and an actor manqué, I think I arrived in about the right spot, career-wise.

Back to the Bucky show: It was a weird parallel disconnect.  I knew the man, and attended many of his talks.  The script was nearly verbatim Bucky, though drawn from many sources – and it was great to have a quick tour of his best ideas.  Of course, it also had to tell the story of his life, and had to be understandable.  Bucky could talk non-stop for seven hours or so, and could be incomprehensible to the untrained ear.  So, of course, as the director D W. Jacobs (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADUGXWs7uZs) said to me, “It is not an impersonation, it’s an interpretation.”  Granted, and not an easy note to hit pitch perfect.

Understood, but there was still something wrong about it, something where I would have to tell my daughter, “This wasn’t quite it.”  Thinking about it after, here’s a part of what I wrote to the director:

“I know you have had five actors doing this over the years, and that each one will be different, and I have only seen the current one, Tom.  But I have a ‘note’ for you and him: Tom has put on a simple pair of glasses, and he connects with us as an audience.  He thus comes across as your smart and engaging Uncle Bill.  Essential to the experience Bucky had in these situations was that he could neither see nor hear you.  His glasses – and I don’t understand why you don’t include this essential piece of Bucky’s costumery – were black-rimmed with thick lenses, and the bows ended in hearing aids.  Even with these aids, when Bucky was up on stage, he could hardly see and barely hear the audience, so he did not engage the way you have him engaging.

“Now the Bucky you portray may be the younger Bucky, or Bucky more at home, but the Bucky whose thought we sought to understand was more removed than yours.  Add the glasses, and keep Tom from engaging the audience so much, especially when he is in lecturing, as opposed to biographical, mode.  Bucky, when lecturing, did indeed start out looking up with his fingers together, but then he maintained his inner eye on that vision, which gave his lecturing almost an angelic feel.

“I do not mean that Bucky himself was an angel – you have done a very good job of humanizing him with his defeats, delights, excesses and successes – but that he spoke from, or to, this angelic space that did not engage the audience directly but rather drew them along indirectly – if they were willing to work – toward the space he had achieved.

I think you can achieve this by the simple act of changing Tom’s glasses, not for mere versimilitude, but to force Tom away from checking that we got his jokes, toward a connection with the divine whatever-it-is which was always the radiating center of Bucky’s communication to the children of earth.”

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One Response to “Bucky’s One-Man Show”

  1. Sharon Says:

    This whole saga fascinates me. First of all, the actor who’d be able to accomplish what BF did as he lectured (with or without “handicap”) is required to be almost as brilliant as BF himself to represent the divine reality of BF. It is the little theatrical monster that rears its little inept head every time an actor (or a play) attempts to portray one of the greats. I’ve played Piaf twice in the (badly written) play with music of the same name, and the script literally leaves the Piaf out of Piaf. It is a godless script, and in order to bring the greatness of the soul and the song into it, I’ve had to literally “channel” Piaf each time (in the process, I have learned so much about melody it ain’t funny; she is a great teacher). But how many actors want to go that far? It’s a lot of work, taking on the passion of the real thing (and being willing to “suffer” the unknowingness of the space where their great art was created)! Aren’t there videos of BG lecturing? Has there been a source for director/actor to have recognized the truth of what was going on when this man ascended into the angelic realm of all knowledge? So much flies over the head of so many nowadays.

    I’ve just about decided that theater pieces cashing in on the great deceased are not much more than whoring machines….if you’ll pardon the expression.

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