‘Being Leonardo da Vinci (An Impossible Interview)’ at The Kennedy Center

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Italian director and actor Massimiliano Finazzer Flory brought his latest project, Being Leonardo da Vinci (An Impossible Interview), to The Kennedy Center on April 2, 2015, for a single engagement. It was an ambitious show, utilizing Leonardo da Vinci‘s own words, as left to the world via his journals and letters, to construct a sit-down interview of more than 60 questions about his life, philosophy, and art. And as da Vinci himself was many things – artist, engineer, scientist, philosopher – this impossible interview likewise combined the artistic and the intellectual in ways that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t.

Massimiliano Finazzer Flory and himself as Leonardo DaVinci. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Massimiliano Finazzer Flory and himself as Leonardo DaVinci. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Massimiliano Finazzer Flory wrote, directed, and starred in this production about Leonardo da Vinci, continuing a theme of theatrical biographies begun in 2006 with his production, Massimiliano Finazzer Flory. Dressed in period clothes and using the magic of cosmetics to reconstruct Leonardo da Vinci’s face, Flory appears onstage as the living embodiment of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s self portraits. But beyond just looking the part, he threw himself into every aspect. Physically moving in the slow, measured steps of an old man, Flory’s da Vinci was nonetheless still the brilliant, lively man history has told us about. His responses were insightful, and like any interview, had the tendency to stray from the original question. He often became frustrated and downright grumpy at the interviewers’ ability to grasp his concepts, leading to several funny moments.

Before Being Leonardo began, a slide show of da Vinci’s paintings and inventions courtesy of the Museum of  Leonardo da Vinci were played against the back wall. The show then opened with an original composition by cellist, composer, and interviewer, Julia Kent, during which time, Flory took the stage as well. Michela Lucenti, dancer and choreographer, created a 15-minute dance inspired by da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ and set to the compositions of Josquin Desprez, which was performed by Luncenti and Maurizio Camilli. From there, the interview began.

The interview was bilingual, with interviewer Julia Kent asking her questions in English and Flory responding in Italian. Translations of the Italian were projected on the back wall. Aside from those translations and the chairs upon which Flory and Kent sat, the set was bare. That bareness helped create the illusion that, through unknown means, Leonardo da Vinci had managed to step through time for the sake of this interview. But more importantly, it also eliminated any distractions from Flory’s performance, or from the translations for those who needed them.

The dance at the beginning of the play was lovely. It touched on the ‘Vitruvian Man’ without making itself an obvious takeoff of that artwork. On the one hand, this allowed it stand independently as a beautiful dance. On the other, with only that brief moment of mirroring the ‘Vitruvian Man,’ it was a little hard to connect to the rest of the interview and it’s relation to the subject of da Vinci. The use of Josquin Deprez’s music, both for the dance and the rest of the play, was a nice homage to da Vinci’s last years, which were spent in France under the auspices of King Frances I. They were used to good effect during the interview as well, to highlight moments throughout the interview when da Vinci seemed overcome by his own genius.

On the technical side, the projections left much to be desired. As I listened to Flory speak, what little Italian I know allowed me to pick up that his answers were often much more humorous than the translations indicated. When I asked my companion, who’s fluent in Italian, she agreed that the dialog was both funnier than the translation and that in a few cases, the translations failed to convey the message. Also, the division of sentences on the projections could use some editing. For some answers, the first slide only had a single sentence, while the following slide would have two or more. It made for uneven pacing and left me in a bit of a panic to make sure I’d read everything.

Throughout the interview, it was easy to see why Flory was attracted to writing a show about da Vinci. It’s the same reason thousands of others have devoted innumerable movies, books, lectures, and more to him. Da Vinci saw the arts and science as the same thing, the very process of creating art requiring scientific observation. More than that, knowledge of history, philosophy, and personal experience were also tantamount to the creation of good art and the living of a good life. He truly was the epitome of a Renaissance Man, not only in what he created but in his very mentality. Flory has provided viewers something those other mediums have rarely touched on, though. We were able to get a brief glimpse inside the workings of one of history’s greatest minds. As Flory says in the Director’s Note, he used the format of the impossible interview “to get the story and imagination, facts, and our present time together.” In this, he was most definitely successful.

Overall, Being Leonardo da Vinci (An Impossible Interview) is not a play that I’d recommend for the casual theatre-goer. However, for anyone with interest in Leonardo da Vinci or the Renaissance at all, I think it’s a must see. The material is fascinating, the presentation is engaging, and the actors and dancers are top-notch.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Apertamente presents: Massimiliano Finazzer Flory in Being Leonardo da Vinci (An Impossible Interview) played for one-night only on Thursday, April 02, 2015, 7:30 PM at The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater-2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For future events, go to their performance calendar.

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