The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci – Goodman Theatre
When The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci premiered in 1993, behind the Art Institute, in the Goodman Theatre’s studio space, I was a junior at Northwestern and had just discovered a great way to see fantastic Chicago theater for free – ushering! I distinctly remember the
disappointment I felt when I missed the opportunity to do so for Mary Zimmerman’s acclaimed production. Almost thirty years later, I was thrilled when I saw it was going to be revived at the Goodman, this time in the Owen Theatre of the Goodman’s home since 2000, on Randolph, in the heart of Chicago’s theater district. Given this second opportunity, I jumped at the chance, and was not disappointed.
Let me start with the brilliant set design of Scott Bradley, who re-staged his original design to fit the new space. File cabinets line both sides of the set and I wondered if each drawer represented a different
subject of DaVinci’s musings. I was surprised and enchanted to see the myriad of ways those file cabinets and every other aspect of the set was utilized. It was climbed on, swung from and re-purposed in so many ways, and with a seamlessness that was beautifully choreographed so as to not notice a great many of the transitions.
The play, about an hour and a half in length with no intermission, has no discernible plot, but the eight actors, all playing DaVinci, sometimes simultaneously, other times individually, worked with the set beautifully to help create those seamless transitions between DaVinci’s thoughts on everything from sleep and love to wealth and the properties of physics. It took a bit of time to ground myself in what was happening on stage, to be honest, but once I was, I just settled into taking in what was happening on stage, moment to moment.
The actors, all new except for one, Christopher Donahue, were special, each in their own way. I really appreciated the diversity of the actors, perhaps as a reflection of the medley of topics DaVinci was curious enough to study and include in his thousands of pages of notebooks. Did he sleep? I can’t imagine he had much time to, given how prolific he was, both as an artist and with his ravenous curiosity about the world around him. The actors choreographed and performed nimble phrases of movement with each section that helped illustrate what was being said, perhaps in an attempt to mirror what DaVinci was seeing in his own head as he wrote down his observations. I appreciated the use of repeated phrases of movement in different parts of the show, but I also wished that some of the moments were tighter in synchronization and attention to detail; perhaps that will gel further as the run progresses. Overall, however, the actors proved to be agile and precise, as well as quite athletic in some refreshingly surprising ways.
This show was the first piece of live theater I’ve seen in many, many months and it was fantastic to see a group of actors having what looked to be a grand old time, bringing to life Mary Zimmerman’s genius vision of the writings of another genius from so long ago.
The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci runs through March 20th, 2022, in the Owen Theatre of the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Tickets: $20-$50 at 312-443-3800 and www.goodmantheatre.org
Photo credit: Liz Lauren