Mona Lisa Teaches us a Lesson on Art

by China Young

Art is alive. I believe this to be true because those of us that view art are alive. Whether it is a painting, a sculpture, a play, a song, or any other art form, no two people will have the exact same opinion.  Author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford put it best when she wrote, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Beauty and value cannot be judged objectively because everyone experiences art through their own individual lens, and that lens is ever-changing. However, with opinions come critiques, and if you’re reading this then you’re likely aware that critiques can influence opinions. Mona Lisa on the Loose, written and directed by Gretchen Wirges with music by David Ragland, explores all these themes with humor, music, and joy. Despite these themes being a bit more complex than expected for a family show, the simplicity with which it is told leaves the entire audience with a beautiful message that is full of heART.

Mona Lisa on the Loose

Ally Tanzillo as Helen, Andrew Miller as Blue Boy, Christina Evans as Mona Lisa, and Kyleigh Sacco as Pierre and Robert. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The play begins by establishing the audience as visitors to the Louvre Museum. We are introduced to our tour-guide, Pierre (Kyleigh Sacco), who then proceeds to show us the art contained in the museum. However, Pierre is clearly bored from giving this same tour multiple times every day and presents the art in an over-critical manner, touting them all plain, boring, and nothing special. Even the Mona Lisa, considered one of the greatest works of all time, is criticized by this jaded tour guide. After the Louvre closes, the four pieces of art we’ve met (I’ll get to them all specifically in a minute) come to life, shake off their “forever” poses, and start to talk, sing, and even dance. They are discovered to be “alive” by the Louvre overnight janitor, Roberta, who eventually reveals to them that, because of Pierre’s criticisms, they are no longer considered  “great works” and there is a rumor that they will all be relocated to the storage room. Through the power of (theatre) magic, the artwork transforms Pierre’s attitude towards them from disdain to appreciation, ensuring they keep their place in the halls of the museum and in the hearts of all people that come to see them. 

The first work of art the audience is introduced to is Pearl (Taylor Thomas), the oil painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (c. 1665). Next, we meet Blue (Andrew Miller) from Thomas Gainsborough’s full-length oil painting The Blue Boy (c. 1770). Our only sculpture is Helen (Ally Tanzillo), a bust of a Greek goddess. The precise origin of this piece is unknown, but she is believed to be from approximately the 4th century BC. Finally, we meet Mona Lisa (Tina Evans), Leonardo DaVinci’s “archetypal masterpiece” from the Italian Renaissance. The Mona Lisa is shrouded in mystery: Who is she? Is she smiling? Why is she smiling? Is she finished? It is even uncertain when DaVinci began to work on her. She is believed to have been painted sometime between 1503 and 1517 and was likely not worked on consistently. The Mona Lisa, or La Gioagonde in French, has lived at the Louvre since 1797 and is one of the most visited works of art in the world. If I remember correctly, most, if not all, of these facts are presented within the play, making it just as educational as it is entertaining.

Full disclosure, I’ve never been to a Live Theatre Workshop Family Series production because I’m not really a “family series” kind of person. The audience was predominantly kids ranging from “babies” to “who knows,” with a generous sprinkling of adults (because how else are kids going to get to the theatre). I usually avoid places where I anticipate large gatherings of young children, but I have to admit that they made the show that much better. Their reactions and interjections were priceless. It helped that there were tons of clever lines and jokes within the script that were obviously put there for the adults, whether the kids picked up on them or not. The song lyrics were also very clever, though the music itself occasionally slowed down the pace of the play. Sometimes it was the tempo of the song itself, other times it was due to lengthy opening interludes. This was a minor issue in an otherwise lovely production for all ages. 

The technical designs complimented the script in their educated simplicity. Stephanie Frankenfield’s costumes found a smart balance between the essence of the art each character represented while including flourishes of modern-day dress that made them instantly more contemporary. The set design (by Stephen Frankenfield and Amanda Gremel) and scenic painting (Karin Hupp) were equally successful in this regard, if not more so considering this production must share a stage with LTW’s Mainstage productions. Each “painting” had their own stationary frame to stand behind (or around), and the bust of Helen sat on a movable pedestal that hid her body and allowed the other actors to move her around and include her into the action. Gremel also designed the lighting, which included tricks to light the artworks similarly to how you might see them in an actual exhibit. The script and staging allowed these lights to become their own characters at times, exposing the audience to how integrated technical designs can be in a production. Again, smart and simple. 

I really appreciate introducing children (and adults) to other art forms through theatre. It is a fantastic tool to educate and inspire, especially when not everyone can visit the Louvre. The best part of this show was the message I was left with: art comes from the human heart, and that’s why it is so beautiful to witness. Love what you love, and share it with others. 

Mona Lisa on the Loose is playing at Live Theatre Workshop on Sundays, January 26 – March 8, 2020 (no show February 16), at 12:30pm. More information and tickets are available online at https://www.livetheatreworkshop.org.