What About Leonardo
A Play by Evald Flisar
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Synopsis from Collected Plays, I (Texture Press, 2006)
A group of patients at a neurological institute exhibit a variety of bizarre behaviors, although behind their compulsive mannerisms seem to lie identifiable and universal human needs: the need for love, the need for approval, the need for security. Their problems are diagnosed as organic, not psychological in origin, and so, according to Dr. Hoffman, the head of the institute, incurable. But the psychologist Dr. DaSilva, coming to the institute to find a subject for her PhD, thinks otherwise.
Dr. DaSilva believes she can teach Mr. Martin – who has retreated into the comfort of total amnesia and then developed an extraordinary ability to learn and remember everything – to be another "Leonardo," a renaissance man of the 21st century. But does this represent "progress for the human race" or is it a cruel delusion? When the other patients mischievously start teaching Martin other things – rude jokes and Shakespeare – poetry seems to touch something elemental, an inner core of feeling in him that has not been lost. Is this his "real" identity, something more than a parrot-like imitation?
But Dr. DaSilva's teaching has great power, as she finds to her cost. Sinister forces become interested in Martin's potential usefulness, and he learns the lessons of violence as easily as the lessons of "culture" – without understanding the meaning of either. The final attempt to save Martin by giving him back "the freedom of choice" comes too late; by acting out the literal meaning of Shakespeare's poetry he commits mayhem without realizing what he has done.
The play, for which the author consulted his nephew, a neurologist, and a number of books, among them The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks and The Man with a Shattered World by A. R. Luria, probes the nature of identity and individual freedom in the context of a society riddled with greed, ambition and heartlessness. It is peopled with characters that offer extraordinary potential for actors (following theSlovenian premiere, no fewer than three received major awards).
Oliver Sacks. The Many Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
A. R. Luria. The Man with a Shattered World.
Russian psychologist A. R. Luria presents a compelling portrait of a man's heroic struggle to regain his mental faculties. A soldier named Zasetsky, wounded in the head at the battle of Smolensk in 1943, suddenly found himself in a frightening world: he could recall his childhood but not his recent past; half his field of vision had been destroyed; he had great difficulty speaking, reading, and writing. Woven throughout his first-person account are interpolations by Luria himself, which serve as excellent brief introductions to the topic of brain structure and function. (from Amazon.com)