The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Adapted and Created by: Mary Zimmerman
At: Goodman's Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.; 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org/Notebooks. Runs through: March 20
If you remember just one fact about Leonardo da Vinci, keep in mind that his life's passion was to seek answers to the many questions he posited on himself and others. And as we learn and study about him and his work today, we find that he may have lived with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which, upon reflection, really gave him an edge. After all, his questions (many of them left unanswered) and his experiments (quite a few inconclusive), opened the door for others to continue the work of finding solutions and solving the puzzles he created.
The answer or the solution always starts with a question. Da Vinci's keen understanding of this, along with the makeup of the world and all that is in it, provided a unique lens from which his pupils could explore the world. His thoughts and ideas can be found in the many notebooks he left behind, which included notes, diagrams, observationsand questions. Of course, there are also the famous paintings he is known for, but painting, just like everything else he did, was heavily informed by his constant observations and experimentations.
His scribblings, ideas and drawings come to life in a brilliant interpretation to da Vinci's written works in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman at The Goodman's Owen Theatre. It cleverly unfolds and flips through the pages by way of actors who all represent da Vinci in his many facets of works, moods and interrelations with his students and peers. The smaller venue brings theatergoers right alongside the coffers, as they adorn a large part of the stage to demonstrate the many different projects and undertakings the Renaissance man constantly revisited with the same curiosity as a child. The span of his work also included designing and building weapons, botany, and even human dissection.
In one scene, you see him questioning the structure and use of wings by a creature as well as reasoning why a model of the wings should also work on a human. A flailing human collapses from the weight of the wings, but da Vinci is not convinced; he simply puts the experiment away for another day. Of course, human flying is not something he was able to accomplish, but it certainly created a framework for the inner workings of other flying machines. Similarly, some of his other imaginings materialize into a beautiful work of theater as actors and dancers perfectly arrange themself in poses high above the stage or dangling from swings and poles throughout the meadows and grounds as seen only in the mind's eye of da Vinci.
An intriguing element of this work is the varied costumes and appearances of the actors. Some of them, women, portray da Vincia strategy that makes the viewer see da Vinci's thoughts unfold without becoming preoccupied with how we might imagine him in real life. In his human form, he would have had limitations. Instead, in these versions of himselfas portrayed by young, beautiful actors, both female and malehis ideas seem limitless and unencumbered by human boundaries, both physical and mental. His notebooks, filled with his ideas are all over the place, swiveling, pivoting, allowing all angles to be visible. This is how we might imagine da Vinci saw the world, in a frenzied array of ideas and suppositions, making him as impatient to find answers as his notebooks were for more of his ideas.
"Notebooks" is not only for the lover of art, science, architecture and thought, but also for the playful at heart. Zimmerman delivers an appetizing entrée that simply delights.