The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

Adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman
Main Season · Roda Theatre
September 5–October 19, 2003

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Mary Zimmerman’s unique style of theatre thrilled Berkeley Rep audiences with Metamorphoses and Journey to the West. She returns to open our 2003–04 season with a production that offers a window into one of history’s most original and imaginative minds. Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks are a record of his ideas on far-ranging topics from mathematics, anatomy, architecture and engineering, to philosophy, love and the human spirit. Zimmerman, whose own vivid imagination, tongue-in-cheek humor and theatrical vision have earned her a MacArthur “genius” grant and a coveted Tony Award, creates a beautiful, beguiling and brilliant canvas on which the mind of Leonardo is illuminated.

Creative team

Mary Zimmerman · Adaptor / Director
Scott Bradley · Scenic Design
Mara Blumenfeld · Costume Design (based on the original designs by Allison Reeds)
T.J. Gerckens · Lighting Design
Michael Bodeen · Sound Design
Miriam Sturm · Original Music
Michael Bodeen · Original Music
Cynthia Cahill · Stage Manager
Michael Suenkel · Assistant Stage Manager

Cast

Lucia Brawley · Leonardo
Jane Cho · Leonardo
Lizzy Cooper Davis · Leonardo
Christopher Donahue · Leonardo
Kyle Hall · Leonardo
Doug Hara · Leonardo
Mariann Mayberry · Leonardo
Paul Oakley Stovall · Leonardo

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

Welcome to the 2003–04 season. We embark upon this year with a terrific sense of excitement, as the plays we have lined up for you hold a tremendous amount of promise.

We begin with The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, born from the singular, imaginative sensibilities of Mary Zimmerman. Very few directors can create the combination of visual delight, emotional accessibility and intellectual curiosity that Mary does, and we are proud to welcome her back to Berkeley Rep. Her company joins her in this unique celebration of Leonardo’s work, bringing a host of his ingenious theoretical ideas to surprising, three-dimensional life.

This season also marks the beginning of Les Waters’ tenure with the Theatre. Les is a consummate director, having graced our stages with Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer last year and, prior to that, Chuck Mee’s Big Love. A seasoned artist with a vast amount of experience and eclectic taste, Les will direct two shows for us and work extensively with our new play program. Look for him at the Theatre (you can’t miss him—he’s the tall guy with the British accent.)

Every year brings new challenges and a new sense of resolve. It’s no secret that our industry and our country have recently suffered through some hard times (the recent budget cuts and resulting demise of the California Arts Council being just the latest chapter). The strength of our courage and spirit is being tried as we seek to regain an intuitive sense of optimism in every aspect of our lives. The theatre should help to sustain us in these efforts, serving to create an atmosphere charged with inspiration within a powerful sense of community. To that end, your continued support is critical to us, as it provides us the wherewithal to continue to produce work that will satisfy, challenge and entertain us all. Thank you so much for coming, and may the season far exceed your expectations.

Tony Taccone

Mary Zimmerman’s Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

By Nicole Galland

In The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Zimmerman has created a unique production out of material that would not normally seem to be fertile soil for the theatre. The piece is comprised entirely of language from private notebooks that Leonardo kept from 1475 until his death in 1519. “The text feels all the more authentic, the more immediate, for the fact that large parts of it are unconscious,” says Zimmerman, “by which I mean they are just notes to himself. Much of it is the equivalent of the dozens of scraps of paper we have by our phones. The difference is whose phone it is.”

Leonardo da Vinci was born out of wedlock in 1452, son of a rich Florentine notary and a peasant woman in the small Tuscan village of Vinci. At a young age he was already handsome, charismatic and multi-talented, an excellent singer and improviser. After an apprenticeship to Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence, one of the great painters of the age, he became a master himself, and then Leonardo—the consummate overachiever—failed to carry out his first commission: to paint the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Yet this did not stop him from gaining his dream position working for the Duke of Milan as artist and engineer. Over the next 17 years, he did a tremendous number of architectural drawings, theatre designs, festival stagings, military refortifications and hydraulic and mechanical engineering projects. He became so engrossed with geometry during this time that he largely abandoned his artwork, but did find time for the occasional painting (for example, “The Last Supper”). In December of 1499, the Sforzas (the Duke’s family) were driven from Milan by French forces; over the next few years, Leonardo’s itinerant adventures included working for the notorious Cesare Borgia and meeting Niccolo Machiavelli.

In 1503 Leonardo returned to Florence. It was at this time that he began dissecting human cadavers in secret; he did some of his most important anatomical drawings during this period. (Many writers comment, discretely, that he did remarkably detailed and groundbreaking work on the urino-genital tract. They are actually referring to his fascination with, and in-depth studies of, the human penis, the mechanical workings of which he helped bring to light.)

Beginning in 1506 Leonardo divided his time between Milan and Florence (where his half-siblings were quarreling with him about their inheritance). He spent 1514–1516 living under the patronage of Pope Leo X and his brother, Giuliano dei Medici; in 1516 he was invited to France to work for King Francis I, who adored him. He died three years later in Chateaux de Cloux near Amboise. Legend has it that he died in Francis’ arms.

Mary Zimmerman was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and went to school near Chicago at Northwestern, where she is now a professor of Performance Studies. Her signature style developed at the university and there she found work at the Lookingglass Theatre Company, the Goodman, Seattle Rep, Berkeley Rep (her Bay Area home) and Broadway, where she won the 2002 Tony Award for best direction for her enthralling adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This play, which Berkeley Rep audiences will remember from its popular run here in the 1999–2000 season, featured many of the actors who are on stage tonight. Zimmerman has great loyalty toward her actors. One of them, Christopher Donahue, has worked with her in over 18 productions, and believes “that (her tendency) to work with the same people means she’s writing for you specifically, she knows you understand her vocabulary.” There is a sense of family and ensemble within the troupe, and more than that—a sense of discovery, of delighting in what can be done on stage to push the limits of what we consider theatre.

Zimmerman first became interested in Leonardo da Vinci while doing research in graduate school for a project called The Mystery of the Fourth Wall. “I remembered seeing Kenneth Clark’s series called Civilization as a child, and I remembered seeing a particular sepia-colored page with a picture (by Leonardo da Vinci) in cross-section, of the eye, and those rays, those lines of light, drawn into it. That’s why I particularly went looking for Leonardo. I went to the library and I was surprised to see these shelves full of Leonardo’s writing in the first person, in the present tense. I was astonished that there was such a record of his mind.” This subject matter, joined with Zimmerman’s imagination, became Notebooks.

But Notebooks is first and foremost a reflection of the mind of the master, including the fragmentary nature of the work. Far from being a well-ordered collection of information, the notebooks are actually over 5,000 pages, many of them loose-leaf, with often-unrelated words and images overwriting each other and rarely resulting in any kind of coherent order. Both textual and visual, they cover almost all of Leonardo’s interests: aerodynamics, music, anatomy, military strategy, mechanics, painting, optics, botany, architecture, geography, hydraulics and the first, if failed, flying machine. They also include shopping lists, aphorisms, “notes to self” and other random jottings.

Leonardo was left-handed and wrote the notebooks in a backward script that requires holding them up to a mirror to decipher their content. One does not casually glance through such work and remain a mere spectator; it inspires the engagement of the viewer’s own imagination, a willingness to leap from discovery to discovery. “In one moment we see infinite forms,” he wrote, “(but) understand only one thing at a time.” Yet there was little he did not strive to understand. The notebooks are so wide-ranging in both content and tone that they contain their own opposites: in one section on work and painting, we find the maxim, “Intellectual passion drives out sensuality,” and then, on the back of a drawing, “And if there is no love, what then?”

Much of Leonardo’s genius is manifest in his writings, but his posthumous popularity rests largely in his artwork. Scientist or artist, thinker or doer—he was never forced to differentiate between the two. He was “painter and engineer” to the Duke of Milan, and years later, “first painter, architect and mechanic of the King of France.” It is the integrated Leonardo that Mary Zimmerman has brought to the stage to share with us.

A genius procrastinator

As astonishing as it is to consider how much Leonardo produced in his life, there was much that was never accomplished. In some instances, a mind so active had a hard time focusing on a single project for too long; in other cases, political turmoil, career opportunism and other factors kept the master from finishing his projects. Even a partial list of Leonardo’s failed, unrealized and incomplete projects dwarves the accomplishments of most accomplished men:

  • The chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (his first professional commission)
  • A painting of St. Jerome in the Vatican
  • The Adoration of the Magi in the Monastery of San Donato a Scopeto
  • A painting of the Battle of Anghiari in the great hall of the Palazzo Vecchio (where he had failed to execute his first assignment 20 years earlier)
  • A scheme to turn the river Arno from its course and completely drown the city of Pisa, then at war with Florence
  • Two enormous unfinished equestrian statues, one in 1499 and one in 1506, both in Milan
  • In fact, none of his sculptural or architectural designs ever achieved completion.
  • Many of his scientific and mechanical schemes, most famously his flying machines, either did not work or were never constructed.