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Actor provided tutorial on Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo in Westport Playhouse Show

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Photo courtesy of Westport Playhouse

Play: “Da Vinci and Michelangelo: The Titans Experience”

Company: Westport Playhouse

Venue: Westport Playhouse, 635 Westport Plaza Drive, St. Louis, 314-469-7529, thewestportplayhouse.com

Dates: Run concluded

Highlights: Mark Rodgers’ one-man show is more an educational forum than a period-piece drama, but his passion for his two subjects shined through in this interesting educational exercise.

Story: The lives of Renaissance artists Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) were explored in a one-man show created by performer Mark Rodgers. His work discussed the epic achievements of Leonardo, a renowned polymath who was proficient in art, science, architecture and engineering, and Michelangelo, revered for his sculpting, painting and poetry.

Rodgers compared and contrasted these two prodigious artisans of 15th- and 16th-century Italy, whose work came to symbolize the Renaissance movement and the resurgence of culture in Europe.

Other Info: An exhibit of Leonardo’s inventions outside the Westport Playhouse theater presented model-size facsimiles of several of his inventions for audience perusal before or after the two-act, two-hour show.

Rodgers informed those gathered in the theater that Leonardo produced about 44,000 writings, but only 14,000 are known today. Considering what the existing 14,000 manuscripts reveal about Leonardo’s genius and incredible brain, one can only wonder what those 30,000 missing documents might convey.

The show used a 40-foot LED screen on which images of works by Leonardo and Michelangelo are shown, as well as the occasional film footage from a movie or documentary about the men and their times. Rodgers composed the music accompanying the performance, and that music sounded pleasant enough but was too repetitive. Songs sung by a variety of artists are played before the performance and during intermission.

Rodgers noted that Michelangelo, who spent four years painting the Sistine Chapel in Rome, considered painting an inferior art to sculpting. Three versions of the devout Catholic’s “Pieta” exist, with the most famous at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and he also had versions of his famous “David” sculpture.

Michelangelo was not happy leaving Florence to work on the Sistine Chapel’s art at the request of Pope Julius II. Although he acquiesced to the pontiff’s wishes, he extracted revenge on a counselor to Julius II who objected to nudity in some of Michelangelo’s scenes. The artist replied by painting the face of the counselor in a scene depicting hell.

Rodgers is very passionate about his love for the art generated by Michelangelo and the incredible breadth of accomplishments of Leonardo, a genius who became a vegetarian after performing an autopsy on a close friend who died at an early age. Leonardo’s illustration of a bicycle was uncovered by a monk perusing one of Leonardo’s documents in 1966, noticing that one page seemed thicker than the others and discovering the single page to be two pages, with the back page containing an illustration of a bicycle – amazing.

Bill Stine’s direction allowed Rodgers, a St. Louis native, to smoothly segue from topic to topic as the videos on the background screen amplified the actor’s comments. Maarten Cornelis’ lighting design also helped underscore the ongoing history and art lesson by Rodgers, who serves as director of the Da Vinci & Michelangelo Exhibitions in North America.

Westport Playhouse seemed an odd location for such an academic treatise, but the venue’s return after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic served just fine for Rodgers’ foray into the brilliant and studied lives of these two titans of the Renaissance.

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