In Brief: The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

If there is any material that refuses dramatization, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci is it. On more than 5,000 loose pages without order, these are mostly disconnected scientific observations interspersed with some random autobiographical data. A cast of four men and four women speak, mime, or acrobatically perform illustrative turns that—sometimes comically, sometimes snidely—act out selected Leonardo jottings. Instead of drama, there is trickery: an occasionally eye-catching visual effect (an interesting entwining of bodies, peculiar objects pulled out of drawers forming two walls) or merely multiple concurrent but unrelated activities. That despite the master’s quoted warning that however much the eye can encompass, “we understand only one thing at a time.”

This is an old piece that the adapter-director Mary Zimmerman, emboldened by her undeserved success with Metamorphoses, has dug up again.

Typical of her obfuscatory procedure is having an actor deliver a speech in English while an actress repeats it near-simultaneously in Italian. The acting is mostly unremarkable. The show does convey Leonardo’s fanatical passion for measurements and classifications, but that is not much to glean from 90 minutes of gratuitously feverish taxonomy.

Jeremy Dobrish’s Eight Days (Backwards) suffers from three flaws: incredibility, pointlessness, and dumbness. Seven actors play thirteen barely believable characters in a number of mostly risible skits, dimly related and wholly unnecessary: conjunctions and confrontations as uninteresting as they are unconvincing. For example, a middle-aged wife in a restaurant tells a friend over the cell phone how her husband has suddenly become her S&M slave, and how much she has come to enjoy it. The acting is good, though pretty Daniella Alonso has yet to learn to project beyond the fourth row. Dobrish names a Hispanic character Consuela (for Consuelo), but worse than his Spanish is his English. Gnomically put: A chap who can’t tell lies from lays, / Should refrain from writing plays. In an outmoded attempt at modishness, the play moves backward in time, though moving forward it would have proved just as backward.

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In Brief: The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci