By Danielle Crean
“Equally Divine” was one of the greatest performances I have seen at United Solo thus far. I didn’t want it to end, and would love for it to one day be revived off‑Broadway. In it, the Mona Lisa comes to life before our eyes, but is suddenly stolen and hidden away from her fans. I spent the entire seventy‑five minutes wondering whether the famous painting would be recovered and returned to her home in the Louvre Museum.
Writer and performer Jenny Lyn Bader takes us on a journey back in time, spilling secrets and giving us an insight into what happens behind closed doors. Ms. Bader takes on the personas of several famous folks in history, such as Pablo Picasso, Napoleon Bonaparte and Leonardo himself. We learn about da Vinci’s secret romance with his favorite male apprentice, which, at the time, was quite scandalous.
The Mona Lisa shares stories of well‑known men who owned and admired her, and constructs tales that aren’t as notorious. She explains how each enthusiast became almost obsessed with the painting. Some declared their love for her, including the French man who has stolen her.
That’s the kicker; the painting is stolen and stashed away in a small apartment in Paris. The kidnapper is the very man who installed the protective glass box around her in the Louvre. He slipped past security with ease and smuggled her away from her adoring fans. After she was stolen, these fans still came to stare at the blank spot on the wall where she used to be. They were obsessed with the idea of her presence, and perhaps not actually with her at all.
So, who is she? Who is this beautifully mysterious smiling woman, whom every day thousands of people from around the world come to look at? The Mona Lisa tells the audience who she is and why is she smiling, because hasn’t that been a subject of inquiry for as long as we can remember? The answer? She was just a woman who lived across the street from Leonardo’s father. She gave birth to five children at a young age, which was not uncommon, and wasn’t anyone people would know if they saw her walking around. She had a marriage that became stale, things quickly became exhausting, and she lost that smile da Vinci had fallen in love with.
He was determined to bring it back somehow, and eventually painted her portrait, smile and all. After several failed attempts, his apprentice entered the scene with a grin so lovely that, like a stroke of genius, it became obvious what must be done. The Mona Lisa and her smile, her captivating essence, is the combination of both an ordinary beautiful burnt‑out woman and a confident apprentice. As the title of the show suggests, both the man and the woman are equally divine. They are both portrayed in this painting: a woman who wanted to stand out, and a man who wanted to be more like a woman.
In a society that continues to oppress one gender over another, this was a pivotal observation. It’s not about who is better than the other, but that we are born equal, and are all beautiful. Ms. Bader’s performance was wonderful, and I was metaphorically transported out of my seat back in time with her. Her accents were spot on, her eyes showed great emotion, and she delivered a performance that I would recommend to everyone.
“Equally Divine: The Real Story of the Mona Lisa”
Written and Performed by Jenny Lyn Bader
October 24 and November 14 at 9 PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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DANIELLE CREAN is an aspiring writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a graduate of Marymount Manhattan College with a degree in Communication Arts and Journalism. During her college career she was a writer and editor-in-chief for the Odyssey Online. She is also currently writing a novel based on her own personal experiences with mental health.