Upstairs at Portland Center Stage's (PCS) Armory Building, Guys and Dolls is paying the bills. And downstairs, in the tiny Ellyn Bye Studio? A wonky one-man show is urging audiences to reevaluate their worldviews.
DW Jacobs' ambitious script is here delivered with halting earnestness by Doug Tompos, who channels the strangeness and brilliance of the iconoclastic R. Buckminster Fuller, AKA Bucky, early advocate of sustainability and passionate proponent of the idea that technology and design can be harnessed in such a way as to feed and care for every human being on earth.
The show is presented as a lecture, as Bucky first explains his childhood and background, and goes on to describe his experiments with design efficiency (including the invention of the geodesic dome). The show features a geodesic dome sing-along, a passionate argument for a new approach to the way that "spaceship Earth" (a term Bucky coined) is piloted, and a love story so sweet it'll make you tear up.
Three flat-screen TVs provide a limited backdrop, and the show's main weaknesses lie in the occasional overwrought moments when Bucky poses pensively against a screen as the music swells. (The only other complaint here is that Tompos has a tendency to rush through his explanations of the show's more complex ideas.
It's an excellent production, thought provoking and occasionally exhilarating, and unlike the bloated musical high kicking its way across PCS' other stage, Buckminster Fuller feels deeply relevant. The belief that there are design-based solutions to humanity's problems—competition for resources were eliminated, there would be no need for war—is an achingly idealistic one. It's also, though, the kind of simultaneously pragmatic and optimistic thinking that leads to real solutions to real problems, and it's impossible not to feel inspired by the life of a man who devoted himself to finding those solutions.