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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW The Woman Who Amuses Herself
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2016-07-06

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Playwright: Victor Lodato

At: Idle Muse Theatre Company at

Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway

Tickets: 773-340-9438 or

IdleMuse.org; $15-$20

Runs through: July 24

It's a safe guess that playwright Victor Lodato would be perfectly happy if your mind "went there" with the title of his play The Woman Who Amuses Herself. But it's not nearly as salacious as all that in Idle Muse Theatre Company's Chicago premiere.

Lodato's drama is actually about Leonardo da Vinci's painting of "Mona Lisa," which was nicknamed by Italians as "La Gioconda." That expression literally translates into English as Lodato's play title.

But rather than dramatize the Renaissance creation of the painting and its mysteriously smiling sitter, Lodato instead offers up a fragmentary portrait of Vincenzo Peruggia ( also spelled Perugia ). He was the Italian house painter who stole the "Mona Lisa" in 1911 from Paris' Louvre museum.

It was a low-key heist full of dumb luck. So Lodato instead imagines what obsessions that supposedly drove a monologue-prone Peruggia ( Nathan Thompson ) to steal the painting and hold onto it for two years in his grimy Paris apartment. Lodato also jumps ahead in time to show how later generations view the "Mona Lisa."

Some of these time shifts are funny, particularly Cat Hermes as the school teacher Miss Mattel who puts too much personal emotional significance on the painting as part of a class assignment. Joel Thompson also is sly as the mischievous dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp who shares his playful desecration of the painting.

But what's crucially missing is a pompous media expert to argue that the "Mona Lisa" is only famous today because of Peruggia's theft of it and the worldwide newspaper coverage of the story.

Lodato's mix of historical information and entertainment is fine, but rarely are you truly moved by what his characters have to say. ( Maria Kovacevic, as Perugia's baffled mother, comes the closest. )

That same level of admirable proficiency but so-so passion also could describe director Nathan Pease's overall approach to Idle Muse production of The Woman Who Amuses Herself. Laura Wiley's animated production designs are nice, although they don't always fill out the surprisingly grand stage of the new Edge Theater.

The show's acting ensemble also is fine, with each clearly relishing their time alone onstage. But sometimes the actors don't always make what their characters are saying into vital comedy or drama.

So grab your art-historian friends to see The Woman Who Amused Herself to see how Lodato chose to dramatize the theft of one of the world's most famous paintings. Just be aware that the experience will be more contemplative than gripping.


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