By Joy Notoma
A woman stands on a chair center stage speaking cryptically. The stage is flanked by a backdrop made of bamboo shaped triangles organized in a geometric configuration, modeled after the geodesic dome structure which scientist R. Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller made famous in the 1940s. The blank spaces in the centers of the triangles are filled with little screens that flash nebulous images.
She says, “I don’t mean to alarm you, but we’ve locked the doors.” Audience members shift uncomfortably in their seats.
Thus begins the whirlwind of the absurdist comedy based on the work of R. Buckminster Fuller, “God Is A Verb,” devised by Hook and Eye Theater at The Actor’s Fund Art Center in downtown Brooklyn.
The ambitious and daring performance cannot be explained without a preface that involves some information about R. Buckminster Fuller, reverently referred to throughout the play as The Professor. Fuller was a systems theorist, inventor, and engineer (among other things), who researched and extensively experimented with Utopian ideals using unconventional methods.
In 1969, Fuller brought together fifteen scholars from multiple disciplines to experiment with “what happens when you place the planet in different scenarios,” according to a member of the group who spoke in a Q&A after the performance. Fuller and his group, The World Team, sought among other things, to make the planet ecologically sustainable and to end warfare. The ideals were ambitious and at times naïve, but their crowning achievement is that they are timeless. One can’t help but note that the aspirations could easily be found in a 2016 presidential candidate’s repertoire of campaign speeches. The issues are as relevant today as they were in 1969.
Hook and Eye’s performance draws its inspiration from Fuller’s team. We learn that they are to present their findings to the “Senate Subcommittee on Utopian Conjecture” to stop or delay the gradual extinction of humanity in 2056. The actors performing with dancer’s grace and precision speak with hand signals that resemble sign language, intermingled with brief light-footed dances, many of which are performed in unison. They chant phrases and sing. They furiously jot notes in multiple notebooks. They use words that begin with “electro” and speak of moon rocks and elemental categories.
In walks Ida Webb (Hannah Hartmann), a young undergraduate fresh off a bus from Minnesota eager to join the team, but confused by their lingo and wacky process. Webb is “re-geniused” (restored to a supposed original state of genius) and joins the gang working to find the perfect scenario that is best for the planet and best for humanity.
They play the World Game, a six-foot long table that sits prominently downstage, lit with a light-box of a distorted world map. Large green and red game pieces are moved about. They shout ideas like, “What if everyone rode bicycles more?” and “Make everyone vegetarian!” Each idea is met with ideas for execution, which are met with the refrain, “Think bigger!”
The cultish overtones are strong. The Professor is treated as God. The process is scripture. Methods are never questioned, only followed with narrow submission. One character declares, “Geniuses always follow the rules!”
I forecast that I am watching the kind of cult narrative in which followers blindly believe a charismatic leader and are driven to their end by drinking the fatal Jamestown Kool-Aid. The progressive social and environmental messages are not subtle. The script teeters dangerously on the edge of pedantry. Nevertheless, it sufficiently meets the challenges of fusing historical reference with creative license. And the humor is well-executed, finding its best moments in self reflective elitism and embarrassing delusions of grandeur. Unfortunately, the pace is inconsistent; some moments are painfully slow while others happen in a blink. Thankfully, the script is economic and nothing is wholly superfluous.
The director, Chad Lindsey, treats us to finely woven stage pictures, efficiently using each performer as an indispensable member of the ensemble. Audience members are enraptured, hanging on to each cryptic phrase, effortlessly falling in step with the absurd magical realism.
Further, the commitment of the cast is irresistible. All performances are strong. One easily believes the premise that we are watching a team of geniuses, each as brilliant as the other. Elizabeth London stands out as the formidable but graceful Edith Powers. They move as a unit while embarking on his/her own journey as a member of the team who will ostensibly help the world save itself.
In our current presidential election season, the implications are undeniable. We are challenged with the personal responsibility to do more with less, think about how our choices affect the planet, and are faced with the reality that some luxuries have become appendages that we cannot do without.
Explore a world of dangerously high ideals, Utopian fantasy, cult like devotion, and the loneliness of genius in a boldly staged and beautifully performed absurdist comedy by Hook and Eye Theater. Your genius will be shocked in this piece of relevant, complex, and ambitious theater. You won’t regret it.
GOD IS A VERB– by Gavin Broady; directed by Chad Lindsey
Scenic Design by Chad Lindsey; Lighting Design by Christopher Weston; Sound Design by Diarmid Flatley; Costume Design by Krista Intravuovo; Scenic Consult by Ryan Howell; Projection Design by Weston Wetzel
Cast with Cynthia Babak, Roger Casey, Jamie Effros, Hannah Hartmann, Carrie Heitman, Elizabeth London, Sade Namei, Jacob Trussell, and Renee Wilson
GOD IS VERB continues through Nov. 21st at The Actors Fund Art Center. 160 Schermerhorn St. Downtown Brooklyn. For tickets and information visit www.hookandeyetheater.com