There is an unspoken cardinal rule that life tends to imitate art. Victor Lodato’s The Woman Who Amuses Herself takes this to an entirely new level, creating a space where we can reflect on the art that has shaped our own lives, starting with the most famous painting of them all, La Gioconda.
A beautifully written and performed piece
Centred around Vincenzo Peruggia’s (Tice Oakfield) theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, we are taken through the impact this piece of art has had on individuals and culture over time. Lodato takes us through the crime, with language that allows us to draw our own conclusions about Peruggia's state of mind and possible motivations, gradually implying that perhaps he is not the reliable narrator that we initially assume him to be.
The adaptation of the set to the needs of the show in such a small space is particularly impressive. With Karl Swinyard’s set design we go from Vincenzo Peruggia’s apartment to a courtroom to a high school classroom. The inclusion of a slanted wall which compresses the action into a smaller space than the one provided (which isn't gigantic to begin with) shows the extent of Peruggia’s world and really brings his isolation from his surroundings to the forefront. This neatly compliments the way Oakfield brings Lodato’s stream of consciousness writing to life. Julian Starr’s sound design adds additional historical layering to the non-linear structure, providing clear breaks between scenes, settings and characters. The sound brings the eras to life, allowing for differentiation within the piece itself that keeps us on our toes about what may come next.
Oakfield is incredibly talented and this is clear from the beginning. Within the constraints of the set, he creates different worlds, times, characters and places. He talks to us so that by the end, we feel like we know him. He becomes our friend in an incredibly short space of time, making us think about every word he says. Oakfield meets the challenge of shifting quickly from one character to the other, and he is really an incredible force of an actor. With the transcendental nature of his portrayal of Peruggia, Oakfield’s performance stays with us after the show, almost like a ghost not quite put to rest.
This is a beautifully written and performed piece, bringing voice to very complicated and specific feelings, about art, nationality and self. Things that are both universal and very personal all at once. Who knows why the Mona Lisa is smiling the way she is, but this production gives us the space we need to ponder this question for ourselves, whilst reflecting on what has influenced and shaped our own lives. This is the gift that The Woman Who Amuses Herself and Vincenzo Perruggia have given us. This is the legacy of La Gioconda.