If you have ever imagined yourself attending a fantasy dinner party where Leonardo da Vinci is a guest, the closest you will come to fulfilling that wish is seeing “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci,” on stage at the Old Globe.
Playwright-director Mary Zimmerman has created a remarkable theatrical experience – devoid of a traditional storyline – that marries passages from Leonardo’s famed notebooks with engaging imagery and dazzling performance feats. The result is a deep dive into the thought process of the Renaissance painter, architect, engineer, inventor and scientist.
A diverse cast (Adeoye, Christopher Donahue, Kasey Foster, John Gregorio, Anthony Irons, Louise Lamson, Andrea San Miguel, Wait Kim) – all of whom take turns portraying Leonardo – gives voice to the man’s musings, margin notes and even a shopping list in dialogue that ranges from conversational to Shakespearean to rap.
Leonardo-of-the-moment discourse is aimed squarely at the audience while mute Leos in the background are as busy as the Marx Brothers executing acrobatic maneuvers, fluid dance moves and other escapades that elucidate the observations and principles being put forth. You can sense the gears turning in Leonardo’s brain and the puzzle pieces snapping into place while onstage there are practical demonstrations (some downright astonishing) of how motion, force and perspective enable our world to work and make art come alive.
The arena for this is a set by scenic designer Scott Bradley that depicts a workshop defined by oversized wooden file cabinet drawers stacked to the rafters that actors climb with abandon to dizzying heights when they’re not hanging from chin-up bars, scurrying up a ladder or launching from the wings on a swing being propelled to center stage. In quieter moments, Leonardo’s mastery of perspective, light and shadow is shown in recognizable tableaux of The Virgin of the Rocks, Saint John the Baptist and, of course, Vitruvian Man.
Zimmerman made her first iteration of “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” thirty years ago while still in graduate school. This revival production is from the Goodman Theatre, Chicago. The sumptuous costume design is by Mara Blumenfeld (based on the original design by Allison Reeds). Lighting design by T.J. Gerckens, sound design by Michael Bodeen. Original music by Miriam Sturm and Michael Bodeen. The acrobatic consultant is Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi.
“The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” is chaotic, nonlinear and at times challenging. It is also mind blowing, mind expanding and as close to a mind meld with genius that you’ll ever experience. And that is a conversation you won’t want to miss.
By Lynne Friedmann