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A Beautiful Mind 

Deciphering The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

Wednesday, Sep 10 2003
Leonardo da Vinci obsessively educated himself in the study of human existence, but in the university of life he never did pick a major. An artist, scientist, musician, and engineer, da Vinci used paintbrushes, architectural blueprints, dissected cadavers, and structural models in his relentless exploration. It's no wonder it took 400 years for his 5,000 pages of notebooks to be translated and published -- they were a colossal mess. An idea on one page about perspective might be followed by a mechanical drawing of a flying apparatus on the flip side, with a scribbled hypothesis about love scrunched into the corner, all of it written in a language legible only when held up to a mirror. While it may not be unusual for genius to come in such a difficult-to-document package, fully understanding the workings of da Vinci's scattered cognitive process takes a conceptual visionary. And that's where Mary Zimmerman comes, literally, into play.

Revered for her liquid adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, produced in 1999 at the Berkeley Rep and performed entirely in a shallow pool of water, Zimmerman has a gift for putting abstract thoughts into action. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, her current play, is based on the artist's journals from 1475 to 1519. Among the filing-cabinet walls of a cleverly designed set, eight actors take turns reciting da Vinci's written ideas, using dance, song, and acrobatic feats of leverage to illustrate them. The cabinets are the source of the staging's great inventiveness; the actors climb them, hang on them, and pull out the drawers to remove a folding ladder, a model of a pond, or sheaves of wheat as visual representations of da Vinci's theories.

The epitome of a Renaissance man, da Vinci might be considered an attention-deficient, obsessive jack-of-all-trades today. But despite his fascination with the tactile, he often pondered a more intangible subject: "And if there is no love," his notes question, "what then?"

About The Author

Karen Macklin


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