Buckminster Fuller in Brooklyn

Photo Credit: Mitch Dean
God is a Verb
Written by Gavin Broady Directed by Chad Lindsey
Hook & Eye Theater, The Actors Fund Art Center, NYC
November 4-November 21, 2015

Gavin Broady and the Hook and Eye Theater company’s outstanding new play God is a Verb invites audiences to step out of the box and into the geodesic dome. This bold, visually and intellectually exciting production revolves around quirky theorist, designer, and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), but it is assertively not, as the program reminds us, a biographical piece. Instead, billed as an absurdist comedy, it takes place within its subject's mind, focusing on his decades-long World Game Project but skillfully interweaving the personal and the political, the individual and the global, throughout its 100 compelling minutes.

The arrival of new World Game Project member Ida (Hannah Hartmann) provides entry into the world of Fuller, always referred to only as the Professor and played in turn by different actors in the same spectacles. The Professor is a man who believes that triangles are the most stable structures in the universe, asserts that a person is really a process, and assumes that everyone likes clog dancing as much as he does. Although she doesn't know it, idealistic Minnesotan Ida is replacing the previous marine biologist, Georgina (Cynthia Babak), whose unexpected departure foreshadows a discord in this scientific utopia whose nature becomes clear--and thematically significant--much later in the play. In addition to Ida, the team includes Hugo (Jacob Trussell), a womanizing son of a politician; Skip (Jamie Effros), Georgina’s brother (and eventually the group’s moral center); Barbara (Carrie Heitman), the pure scientist with a most unscientific crush; and Edith (Elizabeth London), the most devoted of the Professor’s devotées, who fancies herself his true protégé. As the group "re-geniuses" Ida, which plays something like an initiation into a group that is as much a cult of personality as a scientific collective, its central mission and methodology emerge: to show the world how to save itself through innovations derived from playing the World Game, an interactive simulation of global society in which the final score of each iteration reveals the amount of time until human extinction.

Part of the fun of God is a Verb comes from watching these game scenes, with their careening energy and fantastical, fantastically named spur-of-the moment inventions, augmented by imagery projected onto triangular screens on the rear wall. Besides the countdown to extinction, the Project is also counting down to the date upon which it will make its report to the United States Senate Subcommittee on Utopian Conjecture. As that date nears, a conflict arises between the Professor’s axiom “Think bigger” and less wildly creative but more practical and achievable solutions. This conflict becomes central to play's ultimate position that truly collective action is needed for true sustainability, for a world without an expiration date. This position finds echoes in characters’ connections to the U.S. government’s communist blacklist, and interrelated with questions of who gets to lead and how the great ship Earth can be steered as it rockets through space.

Such big-picture threads are skillfully plaited with details of the Professor’s family and marital life, sometimes in reflection, sometimes in contrast. Failures and insecurities prick at his (self-)mythologization, and along with how to save the world, a recurrent question for the Professor and one that triggers a resetting of the stage and cast becomes “Who are you calling an asshole?” That the Professor is always played by one member or another of the main World Game participants is a clever and effective device, and these shifts, along with some other bits of staging, serve as occasional reminders that the characters are, after all, Fuller’s thoughts and memories. The cast members playing Fuller and his acolytes as well as the supplementary characters are all equally excellent, and the jokes, fast pacing, and absurdism are laced through with real emotion and real stakes in the search for infinite sustainability.

Given that Bryant Park’s skating rink melted last week due to a November heat wave, and the National Weather Service has so far predicted that this unusually warm weather will continue for the east coast into early December, this play about a long-dead visionary utopianist who knew that only saving the Earth would save humanity couldn't be more timely. R. Buckminster Fuller was unlike most of his peers, and God is a Verb is unlike most plays. Skip says that history is “just a best guess about what went on in a room none of us were in.” The result of Broady and company’s guesswork is a rich, intelligent, funny work, one of the strongest plays we’ve seen in recent memory. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler