In a World Game for War, Recalling a Game for Peace

Hannah Hartmann, Jacob Trussell, and Roger Casey in God Is a Verb

The world needs peace, no doubt about it, and we know in our heart of hearts it won’t arrive too soon. Through the end of this week, though, you can see a play celebrating one of the world’s great thinkers on the feasibility and inevitability of peace — and a brief, shining moment when it seemed within reach. The play, called God Is a Verb (if you’re familiar with The Whole Earth Catalog, you may know the phrase), is written by Gavin Broady, directed by Chad Lindsey and presented by Hook and Eye Theater. See it, if you can, at the Actors Fund Arts Center (160 Schemerhorn St., bet. Hoyt and Smith St.) in Brooklyn through Nov. 21.

Who’s the thinker at hand? Let’s tease you a bit more first. Here’s a snippet from the play’s press release:

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In the fall of 1969, an eccentric professor gathers a team of offbeat academics to play a game with one goal: make the world work for all humanity. What unfolds tears space-time as we are whisked from a beatnik cafe to a treetop Congressional hearing and back by way of a university telephone. As the clock ticks, the lines blur between the game and the real world and we wonder if we’ve detached from reality altogether.

Elizabeth London, Hannah Hartmann, Sade Namei, Jamie Effros, Jacob Trussell, Roger Casey and Carrie Heitman in God Is a Verb. Production photos: Mitch Dean.
Elizabeth London, Hannah Hartmann, Sade Namei, Jamie Effros, Jacob Trussell, Roger Casey and Carrie Heitman in God Is a Verb. Production photos: Mitch Dean.

Yes: we’re talking about Mr. Geodesic Dome himself, the futuristic and formidable Buckminister Fuller.

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Broady is a very fine choice to write this play — he has a personal connection to that 1969 event, which was called the World Game and created by Fuller eight years earlier. A journalist by trade — Broady has covered everything from international environmental litigation to high school wrestling, and currently works as a media strategist with a global civil rights organization — his play could be viewed as an exercise in hindsight, but the sense is he’s looking backward is opposite of the point here. Rather, the point of the play is that we ought to look ahead, even in this difficult, violent moment on our planet, to a less war-driven eventual future.

Tickets to God Is a Verb are available here, and the ensemble includes Cynthia Babak, Roger Casey, Jamie Effros, Hannah Hartmann, Carrie Heitman, Elizabeth London, Sade Namei, Jacob Trussell and Renee Wilson.

And now, 5 questions Gavin Broady has never been asked.

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What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?
I wrote a screenplay for an exceptionally weird romantic comedy, and assumed from the start that I was constructing the male lead as a sort of loose doppleganger of myself. I even called him Edward, my middle name. One of my friends read the first draft and asked me if I realized I’d written myself into the script. I said: “Yes, of course.” My friend responded, “And do you realize I’m talking about the girl?” Which, of course, I hadn’t. But my friend was entirely right: Edward was bloodless and studied, a selfie I’d filtered and Photoshopped into an inoffensive beige smear. Mirah, meanwhile, was a character I’d decided at the outset would have the most dramatic potential as a foil to Edward, if I made her as alien from myself as I could manage. So she became a blank canvas to fill with every oddity and neurosis and incomprehension of the world I could invent. And in doing so, I wound up painting a self-portrait without even realizing it.

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Gavin Broady, with a friend.
Gavin Broady, with a friend.

What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?
“You’re not going to put this in one of your plays, are you?” …because, of course, I am.

What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?
I wrote a time-travel screenplay that had a decent amount of special effects and whatnot in it. An acquaintance read it and asked how I expected to make all the time-travel stuff look convincing. I responded: “Special effects.” It took several minutes of confused arguing before I realized that this person had somehow read the entire script under the impression it was a ridiculously over-ambitious stage play.

You’re a journalist and playwright — not a new combination, but an atypical one. For journalists with no interest in writing plays, what could they learn by doing so? For playwrights with no interest in journalism, what could they learn from that?
I’ve actually recently departed journalism to work in the lucrative world of nonprofit civil rights work — but it’s a good question and one I can answer nonetheless. The most valuable lesson the playwright can learn from the journalist is the art of the shitty first draft. Before I became a journalist, I would rarely ever let a piece of fiction or theater leave my desk if I didn’t feel like it was perfect — the end result of which was that everything I wrote stayed in a desk drawer and never got any better. In journalism, the clock is always ticking, and the only way to get the job done is to get the story down as fast as you can and trust that you’ll be able to fix it all in edits. You also learn how to stay objective and emotionally uninvolved through even the most brutal edits. Mostly.

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As for the other way around? One important thing the journalist can probably learn from the playwright is a better appreciation for what it means to be one part of a collective endeavor. My last reporting gig was for an online publication, and the work I was doing every day was too attenuated from any sense of a collective end product for me to have an appreciation or understanding of what was happening in, say, the marketing, sales or IT branches. In a business there’s always a certain amount of siloing. You make a play, though, and you feel a pretty profound solidarity and appreciation for everyone involved — designers, actors, producers — because you’re all putting your efforts into an end product that is immediate and concentrated, and you live and die with it together.

Your father-in-law participated in Buckminster Fuller’s original World Game in the early 1960s. Who is he and what was his participation about? For those unaware of World Game, what was its use and what are the obstacles to using it meaningfully today?
My girlfriend’s father was a graduate student in architecture when he participated in Fuller’s 1969 World Game Project in Manhattan. It was Bucky’s answer to the concept of “war games” — a means of dedicating world resources to improving quality of life for all, rather than to creating more efficient killing devices. As Bucky put it, making “livingry” instead of weaponry. He believed all warfare was based on the illusion of scarcity and the attendant mammalian instinct toward resource-guarding belligerency and overt displays of status. He hoped the World Game would be an antidote to Malthusianism by demonstrating that the world could be organized in such a way that the existing store of resources would be sufficient to meet the needs of everyone on Earth. Doing so, he believed, would totally obviate the need for war.

It’s a nice idea, and most likely a correct one. But it also neglects the human realities that make even the most convincing utopian prescription totally impractical. Those who possess the larger share will never cede that wealth for the sake of the greater good. We can manage that kind of nobility on an individual level, but collectively it’s against our nature. We take care of our own. It’s an admirable instinct, sometimes, when you can forget that our inability to square that instinct with the global context we all live in now is literally killing our planet. In a lot of ways, that’s very much what God is a Verb is about: a utopian dream that was doomed from the start by its creator’s insistent belief that humankind is capable of altruism on a global scale.

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Bonus question:

Why is Fuller, as a figure, inherently dramatic — and how did Hook and Eye manifest that drama with this work?
Fuller was fertile inspiration dramatically because he was a storyteller in every aspect of his life. He was a fascinating, tireless public speaker so discursive and neologistic that his lectures could feel more avant-garde than academic. He was a zealous advocate for the myth of himself, and his stories were often designed to illustrate the depths of his own exceptionalism — never more so than in his “origin myth,” the night he waded out into Lake Michigan to kill himself only to be interrupted by a golden light that declared him too important to the world to take his own life. So part of the fascination of making this play has been in coming to appreciate the man through interrogating the stories he told about himself. He believed that if you change the way you look at something, the thing you look at changes. Our play is about a man who attempts to apply that principle to both the world, and to himself.