When history is silent, a playwright can fill in the blanks by moving into the realm of the probable and the possible. The doorway for playwright Maureen Hunter (author of the successful “Transit of Venus”) in her latest work is the few facts written about Leonardo da Vinci’s early years.
Born in 1452, he was the illegitimate son of a Florentine notary and landowner and a peasant girl, Caterina. Little is known of his early childhood, but by the time he was 5 he shows up in a census as living on his father’s estate.
Had the baby been on the da Vinci estate from the beginning? Was Caterina (who actually married a local craftsman and remained in the area) persuaded to give up her son sooner or later and leave the village? Was she the heroic woman Hunter imagines her to be?
Probably not. But Hunter’s blend of fact and fiction makes an appealing drama about love and sacrifice that serve to nurture genius. In a script marked by crisp dialogue and generally believable actions and reactions, Hunter presents the story of what might have happened to Caterina in a patriarchal society focused on dynasty, dowry and the need to marry well.
Entertaining as the script is, it is designer John Jenkins’ set, so reflective of the geometry of some of Leonardo’s inventions, that captivates. Aided by John Munro’s lighting and director Dennis Garnhum’s sure hand, “Vinci” whirls through Jenkins’ revolving spirals to an inevitable but disturbing conclusion.
Perhaps because the script focuses so firmly on the female viewpoint, it is the performances of Patricia Fagan as Leonardo’s mother and Fiona Byrne as his father’s apparently barren and suicidal wife that are the pivot of the play and the focus of attention.
Despite some disappointing supporting perfs, the production is fluid and fast-moving; it heralds a possible future for “Vinci” as a regional theater favorite.