Buckminster Fuller LIVE! Performed by Actor Noel B. Murphy


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Who is R. Buckminster Fuller?

Most Americans have probably never heard the name. And, of those who have, only a tiny minority could give you an answer that would take in the totality of the man.

For Fuller fans, his relative obscurity is an injustice. In their eyes, Fuller — who died in 1983, a bit short of his 88th birthday — belongs in the iconosphere alongside Albert Einstein. Famed media theorist Marshall McLuhan, a Fuller contemporary, called Fuller “the 20th century’s Leonardo da Vinci.”

Santa Cruz comedian, actor and filmmaker Noel Murphy doesn’t need to be convinced of Fuller’s brilliance. Murphy has gone as far as channeling Fuller in a new one-man show called “Buckminster Fuller Live!,” which he will perform live at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Friday. It is, in fact, his second iteration of a one-man Fuller show.

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Murphy, 50, characterizes his ongoing fascination and exploration of Fuller’s mind and work as “the Bucky Wound.”

“The Bucky Wound, to me, is when something goes so deep into your intellectual and psychological subterrain that you become driven,” he said. “It’s not quite obsessive-compulsive, because it doesn’t really qualify as a neurosis. But it’s almost like a burn that you’re trying to soothe.”

He calls his relationship to Fuller as akin to “Salieri to Mozart.”

The Mozart, in this case, widely known as “Bucky” Fuller, was an engineer, designer and futurist whose influence on the bleeding-edge systems theory has been profound. He is probably best well-known as the designer of the geodesic dome, the spherical architectural design praised for its strength and elegance.

If things had gone differently, Fuller’s ideas might have manifested in the post-World War II housing boom or even in the auto industry. But he was also a visionary in ideas that have gained hold in contemporary times, such as the need for renewable energy and the idea of seeing the environment as a complicated, inter-related system.

“Watching this guy was like seeing Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Parker on stage together,” said Murphy of Fuller’s lectures. “And there’s a place in my psyche that I’m not even allowed to know about where I recognize that I’m genius, you’re genius, everyone’s genius. That was Bucky’s message.”

Murphy said he first became aware of Fuller when he was a 10-year-old boy. He had befriended a Harvard University divinity professor, storyteller and street performer known as Brother Blue, who was a friend and follower of Fuller. And ever since, Murphy, who has worked for years as a comedian and stage performer, has been entranced by the possibilities suggested by Fuller’s unique career.

Murphy’s performance as Fuller is not a lark. He has performed it in challenging contexts, none more so than when he was given Fuller’s actual lecture hall at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., playing Fuller on Fuller’s home turf.

“It was the scariest and most intimidating thing I’ve ever been through,” he said. “In his lecture hall, in front of his daughter, his best friend and his business partner. And it was like the Supreme Court sitting there.”

The performance is all in the service of “The Last Dymaxion,” Murphy’s documentary about Fuller’s car design. The word “Dymaxion” is a shortening of the term “Dynamic Maximum Tension,” and Fuller used it in describing much of his design work. The Dymaxion car was a Fuller-designed prototype of a vehicle shaped like a blimp, held up to a dozen people and operated on three wheels, the single back wheel used to steer. Amelia Earhart reportedly ordered one of the cars right before her disappearance. A well-documented accident that killed the car’s driver at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago doomed the car.

Murphy’s film explores the aborted history of the Dymaxion car and how it exemplified Fuller’s systems theories. In it, his interviews range from Fuller’s daughter Allegra to noted car collector Jay Leno.