Men of passion

Playing with the emotions at Intiman and Schmeater.

R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER: THE HISTORY (AND MYSTERY) OF THE UNIVERSE

Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center, 269-1900. $10-$42 7:30 p.m. Sun. and Tues.-Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun. ends Sat., July 7

THE SAN FRANCISCO-based Foghouse.com production of R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and Mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE, presented by Intiman Theatre, may not qualify as Art, though in its scrupulous one-man recreation of its hero it makes an engaging case that Fuller himself was a grandly compassionate aesthetic achievement. For nearly 60 years, until his death in 1983, Fuller made the universe seem both more accessible yet importantly larger, conveying his concern for the survival of what he famously coined "Spaceship Earth" through an astonishing career of poetic invention, engineering, and architecture (he was the man behind the geodesic dome).

Writer and director D.W. Jacobs has culled from the vast library of writing and living that Fuller left behind and shaped a far-ranging imagining of the man as he might appear giving a lecture to a curious audience. This is dense material, and you won't be able to take it all in, but if Jacobs overreaches, he also keeps it from being intimidating—the momentousness of the message comes across with a crackling mental invigoration. Jacobs has the perfect conduit in actor Ron Campbell, who, though he excitably muddies a phrase or two, personifies the notion that "the universe is all energy" with an acute physicality that plays like an urgent dance. Jacobs takes Fuller's insistence that we must "fight and work and feel until we die" and literally sends it out into the audience with Campbell, who runs up and down the aisles in a passionate intellectual fervor.

Oddly enough, it's when the production tries to be more than just a staged lecture that the thing doesn't work. Jacobs tips his hand once too often with Luiz Perez's nudging music score and a pathos that attempts to get inside the genius. Whenever Campbell's voice cracks with personal, as opposed to philosophic, emotion (as during a reminiscence of Fuller's ill young daughter), you don't buy it: You're pulled out of a more contemplative exhilaration into a somewhat less-than-thrilling awareness of the event's artificiality—Oh, that's right, I'm watching a show—and you feel a little bit miffed.

But it doesn't happen often. Yes, it's a long evening, and it's just a speech, if you want to get picky about it. Yet in its philosophical exuberance, in the way it asks you to take great leaps of faith with it and experience it as a shared exchange of energy and emotion, it earns the right to be called a compelling theatrical experience.

Steve Wiecking

swiecking@seattleweekly.com

TARTUFFE

Volunteer Park, 1257 15th E., on the lawn between the amphitheater and the conservatory, 324-5801. Free 7 p.m. Fri.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun. ends Sun., July 22

TARTUFFE PROVES an excellent choice for the kickoff to Seattle's plays-in-parks summer season: Moli貥's comedy has a plot easy enough to follow even as you lounge on your blanket, nibble on your picnic, visit with friends, and generally enjoy the great outdoors.

The Orgon household is all in a huff as the master of the estate (a charmingly blustering Jim Gall) has been duped by Tartuffe, a pious impostor nobody else except Orgon's mother (the imperial Jody McCoy) believes. For 45 minutes before Tartuffe actually arrives on stage, we're treated to exposition—a lot of exposition—about all the dastardly things he's done. Yet, rather than drag on interminably, the cast whips up all the ground-laying into a light and enjoyable comic display. Mary Jane Gibson sighs and cries with aplomb as Orgon's daughter, Mariane; Tod Sessoms does amusing double-duty as a tittering maid and Mariane's nobly pig-headed lover, Valere; and Sheila Daniels crowns the cast as the guttural and gutsy maid, Dorine.

In fact, the only time Theater Schmeater's production doesn't perform to its level of promise is when Tartuffe (Joshua Parrott) finally glides onto the stage. Parrott's odd mix of Carol Channing, freak rock star Marilyn Manson, and Danny Devito's Penguin from the Batman movies is creepily delightful, yet his initial seduction of Orgon's wife (Kelly Kitchens) lacks the punch we've waited almost half the show for—she's too sweet and he's too precious to create a provocative tension between them. All is forgiven, however, when Orgon comes bumbling onto the scene, and Tartuffe has a victim he can truly sink his mincing pinchers into. By the second time Kitchens and Parrot meet, we see a juicy and meaty battle we're eager to gobble up.

Even in the rare scenes where the production lags, director Lisa Anne Glomb keeps the action swirling, often literally throwing characters onto the stage to push the evening along. With so much to see and so many well-crafted little moments to share, you can't help but be, as Dorine puts it, "Tartuffified."

Molly Rhodes

info@seattleweekly.com

 
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