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The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

A play at Shakespeare Theatre comprised solely of text from the surviving notebooks of the 15th-century Renaissance man.

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci is now at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s, Michael Klein Theatre. It is written and directed by Mary Zimmerman based on the notebooks of the 15th century artist whose most famous work is the Mona Lisa. 

There is little debate da Vinci was brilliant.  Based on the notebooks and what we know about him, he was interested in everything.  Part of the problem with this play is Zimmerman apparently feels she needs to talk about everything. In the ninety minutes of the play, no intermission, the various actors, who all play Leonardo, talk about among other things; anatomy, nature, love, aesthetics, and geometry. The result is while each segment can be interesting, the play ends up being so disjointed much of the time you really don’t know what the actors are talking about. When you finally make some sense of it, they are off on another topic. It leaves you wondering who the audience would be that could appreciate all this in its fairly chaotic presentation. 

Now what any audience will appreciate is the brilliance of the ensemble cast and the creative team. I hope one day to get to see them all in something else. The cast includes; Adeoye, Christopher Donahue, Kasey Foster, John Gregorio, Anthony Irons, Louise Lamson, Andrea San Miguel and Wai Yim. Again, they all play Leonardo, and they are all superb actors. They each show a versatility that is amazing to watch; including athleticism, dance movement and even singing.  They each stand out in various roles when not speaking as Leonardo. 

Then there is the creative team. They do everything they can to keep you interested.  Scott Bradley, Scenic designer, has given the actors much to work with and the set is constantly surprising in so many wonderful ways.  Mara Blumenfeld, Costume designer, gives the actors costumes that hold the eye and add to their performances. T.J. Gerckens, Lighting designer, adds his vision to the various scenes and highlights the set and much of the dialogue perfectly.  Michael Bodeen’s, Sound design, is wonderful. Then there are Sylvia Hernandez DiStansi, Acrobatic consultant, and Tracy Walsh, Movement consultant. They both clearly helped the actors shine in some of the most fascinating scenes in the play to watch. 

There are sparks of humor throughout the play, and many of them were appreciated by the audience. One is when Leonardo is putting down Michelangelo, saying how much superior artists are in every way to sculptors, and in the background one of the actors stands posed as the David. Another is when Leonardo is talking about how the wing span of man is equal to his height, and one of the actors is posing another to prove it, and it doesn’t quite work out. 

So yes, for me there were some reasons to see this play. But for the most part I missed the point. You may want to judge it for yourself. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci will be at the Shakespeare Theatre until October 23rd