Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's recent reviews of Dance Nation and The Trip to Bountiful

Christopher Donahue and Kasey Foster
Photo by Scott Suchman
The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman and currently being hosted by Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company, is rich, intense, sensual, and too overwhelming to take in fully at a single viewing. Zimmerman has incorporated both verbal and visual elements derived from the writings of the artist, scientist, and scholar (1452-1519) who, at his death, left behind some 5,000 pages of writings and drawings he described as "a collection without order."

Scott Bradley's scenic design in the Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh consists primarily of vast columns and rows of storage drawers under a high, vaulted ceiling. Some elements evoke an elegant Renaissance building with arches and decorative windows, illuminated by T.J. Gerckens' beams and washes of colored light and Mara Blumenfeld's sumptuous costumes.

Zimmerman imagines each of the eight performers as elements of Leonardo's personality, speaking his words while they jointly create panoramic, often surreal and gravity-defying visuals. (The production credits Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi as acrobatic consultant and Tracy Walsh as movement consultant.) The arresting opening image is of Christopher Donahue, speaking Leonardo's words, recounting a childhood experience involving his visitation by a bird (Kasey Foster in a rapturous blue gown).

From there, the performers use Leonardo's words to examine the parts of the human body as components of a geometric form; consider the qualities of painting and sculpture and, as a result, which is the superior art; study the connection between living bodies and constructed ones (such as a flying machine), and whether the spirit has a voice; even the question of what provokes growth throughout the earth. The difficulty is that the visuals are so striking, it's difficult to process Leonardo's words as they pass during the 90-minute performance.

The cast, which also includes Adeoye, John Gregorio, Anthony Irons, Louise Lamson, Andrea San Miguel, and Wai Yim, demonstrates the universality of Leonardo's vision as figures of differing gender, race, and physical size who combine to create their own universe. (Their physical and verbal interactions also suggest T.S. Eliot's "women [who] come and go/Talking of Michelangelo," to cite a reference to another Renaissance man.)

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci runs through October 23, 2022, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh, 450 Seventh St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or visit

Written and directed by Mary Zimmerman
The Goodman Theatre production

Leonardo: Adeoye
Leonardo: Christopher Donahue
Leonardo: Kasey Foster
Leonardo: John Gregorio
Leonardo: Anthony Irons
Leonardo: Louise Lamson
Leonardo: Andrea San Miguel
Leonardo: Wai Yim