Missing Mona (a.k.a. Leo's Lost Notebook)

Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave., 231-9581, Thurs 7:30 pm, Fr.-Sat 8 pm, through April 24, $10-15

F or all of his brilliant sculpture, groundbreaking work in anatomy, and experiments in pre-Newtonian physics, Leonardo Da Vinci is best known for the half-smile of a Miss Mona. Indeed, most people who know the Mona Lisa can't recall the painter, and certainly don't known who the model was. The painting exists on its own, as an enigma, all but detached from Da Vinci's oeuvre or any historical context. Maybe it's just that ineffable smile, the plain-faced woman who manages to devour everything with her knowing eyes.

In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. It didn't return for over two years, an incomprehensible notion in our age of surveillance camera consciousness. Imago Theatre founder Carol Triffle has used the story of the disappearance as the inspiration for Missing Mona (a.k.a. Leo's Lost Notebook), though the theft plot itself ends up as an anecdote, a footnote in Triffle's larger, more abstract piece. Missing Mona often tempts the audience with a coherent storyline, three-dimensional characters, and clever dialogue, but these take the form of a carrot on a string, teasing the viewer into trudging along. Much more interesting is the unique choreography, the layers of projected text, and the hand-scratched 16mm film set to dream-drop music. Most remarkable is the recreation of the famous "Da Vinci Circle," an anthropomorphized atomic map 500 years ahead of its time. Missing Mona is a feast for the eyes with a malnourished narrative arch.

Missing Mona models itself in part after Da Vinci's notebook (brilliant doodling) and postmodern sexual theory (more Birkenstock Journals than Red Shoe Diaries). Refreshingly, Triffle seems less interested in sexual politics than sexual energy, and uses her own body and those of her cast to write a physical essay. Da Vinci is the ultimate inspiration, finding balance in the universe by looking at the naked body of Man. But Triffle is blessed with the same eye for physicality, from clumsy fumbling to sublime ballet. The cast moves with naïve grace and sexual exhibitionism, like a primary-colored Up With People gang bang. There's a fine, shining line that artists today have to tread when it comes to the body, between art object and sex object. TOUSSAINT PERRAULT