The Old Globe Stages Mary Zimmerman's The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

A Beautifully Done Piece Meant to be Enjoyed and Not Questioned  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

(from left) Wai Yim, Adeoye, Andrea San Miguel, and Louise Lamson in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci at The Old Globe, 2023. Photo by Jim Cox.

I remember around 10 years ago or so, I thoroughly enjoyed an exhibit titled "The Da Vinci Experience" which illustrated the content of this Italian artist's notebooks and what appeared to me at the time, his obsession with flying. Aside from getting a beanie from that exhibit's merch, I also bought a book that talked about the notebooks. God! after three moves, you would think I know where it is, and how now would be a perfect time to skim through it again, anyway... Never did I know (until now) that American playwright and director Mary Zimmerman had written a play about this subject in the early 90s while she was about to turn 30 that debuted in the Goodman's Studio Series (at the Art Institute of Chicago). The play made a comeback with a revival last year in Chicago and Washington now that Zimmerman is in her sixties. The Old Globe has staged a production for San Diego that is gorgeous. I find The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci to be an absolute piece of art that perfectly illustrates the meaning of being a visual artist told through their perspective or "via their brain" if that makes sense. 

The piece is a bit over 90 minutes long with no intermission and its uniqueness is not for everybody. I could see a few opposing arguments referring to 'Notebooks as something that does not have a head nor feet (ni pies, ni cabeza) like we would say in Spanish because the dialogue amongst actors is vague and there is no story to resolve. Although, there are some cool art nuances that can be caught here and there. 

Adeoye and Andrea San Miguel. Photo by Jim Cox.

The remarkable and diverse cast is almost the same as it was in Chicago and Washington last year performing a format that sort of runs "conference style" where the actors: Adeoye, Christopher Donahue, Kasey Foster , John Gregorio , Anthony Irons, Louise Lamson, Andrea San Miguel, and Wai Yim who are all Leonrardos or playing the role of, talk directly to the audience to exemplify and illustrate Da Vinci's notes on the importance of the body, weight, force, and speed amongst other key elements "via the brain" perspective through strong exercises that show off physical ability in impressive ways like carrying each other or performing a contemporary dance. I heard an audience member complain during that scene with an annoyed "ok, we get it", when the point of it was to show how motion and repetition work...

I particularly appreciated Adeoye and Andrea San Miguel's display of strength which was mighty and graceful as well as Kasey Foster's masterful interpretation of birds, mimicking the moves with great precision. Looking at Foster was just like looking at a bird but with the poise and elegance of a dancer. -Speaking of birds-, there is a moment when live small birds come in a cage to the scene and even though, again, everything is aesthetic and looks beautiful, the birdies would chirp loudly and it became distracting making me think about their well-being and really hoping they are taken care of. I am an animal person so maybe thinking these little guys are in the pit somewhere in the dark and then coming out to the strong lights becoming super stimulated...night after night...maybe using fake birds with sound effects would be best?

The Globe is well known for delivering stunning set designs and Scott Bradley's scenic design was no exception bringing a totally versatile looker that consisted of drawers from floor to ceiling that opened, turned into staircases, and had bars where the actors could hang from, and even sit while moving around and using the whole space showing the hand of Zimmerman's direction as well as Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi's acrobatic instruction. It even included some surprises like popping a swing from one side complemented by equally stunning props like a framed baby inside a womb that popped even more with T.J. Gerckens's lighting design that also meshed with the earth colors of the set, same as the rennaissance like tones of Mara Blumenfeld's costume design, based on the original design by Allison Reeds, rounded out by Michael Bodeen's sound design. 
The cast of The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci at The Old Globe, 2023. Photo by Jim Cox.

The play also includes original music by Miriam Sturm and Michael Bodeen which certainly adds to the creative concept.

Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius that saw things others did not and, in the same tenor, The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci is definitely not for everybody. Potential audience members that decide to go see it, should relax and give into the flow of the piece. It is not meant to be questioned, just enjoyed. 

Currently playing until February 26. For performance dates and times please click here

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