Light. “Now I can finally see where I am,” the Mona Lisa declares looking querulously around the dump of an apartment in which she’s been sequestered. It’s 1911. Ten days ago, the masterpiece was stolen from Paris’s Louvre Museum by Italian thief and museum employee, Vincenzo Peruggia. He’s besotted, talks to her, even plays music. “I have his name and address. Now I just have to get the word out,” she says.
Stepping off the wood (the work is not on canvas), Lisa del Giocondo (Jenny Lyn Bader) reads from a discarded newspaper: “There never has been a more perfect picture.” Adoration is taken in stride. La Gioconda is accustomed to receiving love letters. (She has her own mailbox at The Louvre.) People continue to visit the blank wall she called home. Sixty detectives and over a dozen psychics have been recruited to find her. Borders are closed.
“When you’ve smiled silently since 1503, it doesn’t take much to set you off.” Lisa wants to tell us the real story. Robbery suspects included Picasso, who stated museums should be burned down and might, she conjectures, want to “force me into a compromising collage,” and the poet Apollinaire – both of whom are portrayed. And about previous unwitting travels – Napoleon Bonaparte once took her to Fontainebleau with ignominious plans for placement.
Forgeries are begun. “This man is worse than a camera!” (There are legends that six copies were made before the artwork was recovered. As long as it was missing, these commanded higher prices.) By the time bumbling police find the place, she’s in a trunk. “You’re almost touching me!” she calls out. A false bottom remains undiscovered.
In reality, the crime’s mastermind tried to sell the painting in Italy and got arrested. “Defending himself, he said he was an Italian patriot enraged by Napoleon’s looting of artworks and had stolen the Mona Lisa for his country. He ended up serving less than one year of jail time.” (Jenny Lyn Bader)
We’re told who the sitter was, circumstances of the painting’s creation, and methods employed to get the depressed housewife to smile. Was The Master’s young lover involved in the final vision? Lisa’s opinions about Leonardo add color. References to method inform. The playwright’s suggestion about visual clues is intriguing. Every word arrives with the lady’s point of view, pride, in context frustration, and wry humor.
Jenny Lyn Bader is a trained and able actress, though not, she says, the preferred one. Her Italian accent is first-rate, her French perfect. Lisa is entirely sympathetic.
Director Julie Kramer keeps action to a minimum. Pacing is excellent.
This is a completely original piece; gloriously researched but never pedantic; its perspective personal. Highly recommended.
REPEAT PERFORMANCE: Thursday, November 14 at 9 p.m.
United Solo presents
Equally Divine: The Real Story of the Mona Lisa
Written and Performed by Jenny Lyn Bader
Directed by Julie Kramer
Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street
United Solo Festival through November 24th, 2019 http://unitedsolo.org/us/