Review: Imagination, stunning visuals bring ‘The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci’ to vivid life at Old Globe
Mary Zimmerman created this unique theater piece more than 30 years ago. A revival production from the Goodman Theatre is playing in San Diego through February.
In 1509, Leonard da Vinci began hand-copying thousands of pages of his written memories, theories and drawings for a series of notebooks that — he wrote in an apologetic forward to possible future readers — would likely end up a repetitive “collection without order.”
That’s also how writer-director Mary Zimmerman opens her wildly imaginative theater piece “The Notebooks of Leonard da Vinci,” which began Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. Eight actors, all playing various facets of Da Vinci’s personality, recite and bring to life onstage words and sketches that Zimmerman collected from the 5,000 Da Vinci notebook pages that still exist today.
Although it’s mostly nonlinear and — as promised by the master — occasionally repetitive, Zimmerman has crafted a visually stunning, often funny and quite insightful portrait of the endlessly curious thinker, inventor, draftsman and painter of “The Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper.”
Zimmerman’s “Notebooks” made its professional premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 1993. Last year, the Goodman revived the piece in a production that visited Washington, D.C., last fall, and is now in residence at the Globe.
Scott Bradley’s scenic design is a wonder. Two tall walls of library drawers, separated by a misty Da Vinci-style landscape in the distance, reveal all sorts of hidden surprises within the pull-out archive drawers. The actors re-create with ropes and stretchy gold bands Da Vinci’s perspective painting techniques, they pose as his famed “Vitruvian Man” sketch, they re-create his thoughts on light, shadow and percussion, they perform one of his nightmares and, through acrobatics, they demonstrate his theories on weight, force and lightness.
But the play is more than just a series of creatively conceived vignettes. Through Da Vinci’s more diary-like notebook entries, a more vulnerable and sensitive man emerges from his shopping lists, his petty jealousy over sculptor Michaelangelo’s fame and commissions and his possibly romantic devotion to his longtime model and muse “Salaì” (Giacomo Caprotti). And through his physics of motion studies on how two human bodies interact, Da Vinci — who never married or had children and who some researchers say was celibate — he comes across as an scientific observer trying to make sense of love and intimacy.
The acting ensemble are multi-talented in acting, acrobatics, singing and dance. They are: Christopher Donahue, Kasey Foster, John Gregorio, Anthony Irons, Louise Lamson, Andrew San Miguel, Wai Yim and the singularly named Adeoye.
“Notebooks” returns several times to two memories from Da Vinci ‘s childhood. Da Vinci writes that when he was an infant, a falcon flew into his bedroom and touched his face, which launched his lifelong study of the mystery of flight. Another memory was a visit to a dark cave that Da Vinci never had the courage to enter as a youth. During the course of the play Leonardo at first turns away from the cave and then, later in life as an older and braver man, he goes inside. And the falcon’s visits — played by Kasey Foster, imaginatively costumed by Mara Blumenfeld based on an original design by Allison Reeds — ground the play in a poetic and deeply touching way.
‘The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci’
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 26
Where: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego
Tickets: $33 to $116
Phone: (619) 234-5623
Get the Del Mar Times in your inbox
Top stories from Carmel Valley, Del Mar and Solana Beach every Friday for free.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Del Mar Times.