A play reading this week aims to bring the audience closer to the famous portrait of Mona Lisa. ELENI PHILIPPOU speaks to the person behind it

It is among the most well-known paintings in the world. A small portrait of a woman with an enigmatic smile. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has been the focus of many other artworks – films, books, poems, studies, plays – and this month Cyprus gets a taste of one of them.

Playwright Jules Tasca has his own take on the story behind the painting, and the interaction between subject and painter in his play Live Drawing: A Portrait of the Mona Lisa. This March, Alpha Square brings a staged reading in English of Tasca’s play directed by Andreas Araouzos to the A.G. Leventis Gallery as part of the latter’s 8th anniversary celebration.

On March 11-13 and 18-20 staged readings of the imagined dialogues between Leonardo da Vinci and Lady Gioconda will be brought to life by Christina Marouchou and Andreas Araouzos.

“Jules Tasca has taught playwrighting at Oxford University,” says Araouzos, “and in this play, he tries to imagine this connection, this relationship, this electricity that could have taken place in Florence between 1503 and 1506. The Mona Lisa is probably the most famous painting in the world, its creator a renowned genius, and therefore to watch a possible, artistic account of what could have taken him three years for a 77 by 53 centimetres artwork is indeed fascinating.

“I believe Tasca took into account a number of historical facts as well as known traits of the enigmatic painting, and also attributes of the multi-faceted personality of da Vinci and what was known of Lady Gioconda, but at the end of the day you cannot have a play without the imagination of the writer.”

feature2 andreasaraouzos and christinamarouchou

Andreas Araouzos and Christina Marouchou

In a nutshell that is what Live Drawing: A Portrait of the Mona Lisa is; a speculative drama about the years it took da Vinci to paint his globally known masterwork. She wants to be immortalised by the most famous painter in Europe. He has personal reasons to keep the portrait to himself rather than release it to Francesco Gioconda, who commissioned his wife’s portrait. Araouzos and Marouchou bring to life Tasca’s imaginings of how Leonardo and Lisa could have argued and debated but they also bared their souls to each other.

“Obviously the historical and famous enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa is attempted to be ‘solved’ in the play,” says Araouzos, “but also the ideas behind the imaginary, the delays in finishing it, the layers of paint and other reasons for his choices. I think the most interesting aspect is the artist’s own personal investment in this work of art.”

The play dives into these meanings deeper. “Lady Gioconda is described fully in this play, her background, her story, her personality, her strength and also her softness, I would imagine not with 100 per cent accuracy of course. She is supposed to be the living root of the artist’s inspiration for this universal masterpiece. What I like in her presentation is that this ‘root’ appears to be a complex combination of physical and spiritual characteristics. And I believe that…”

Though a staged reading is a rather unique event in itself and is not a full-on production, it still supports the essence of the play.

“We wished to celebrate another anniversary of the Leventis Gallery with this very apt play, and because the beauty of this text is clearly the conversations and debates of these two (three actually, because we get to see Francesco Gioconda too, the husband!) it lends itself perfectly for a reading. But of course, it is a directed reading, not a simple one: There are lights and props and sounds!”

The gallery has welcomed Araouzos and his play adaptations in the past, honouring the works of several playwrights. “It is a collaboration that has proven extremely fruitful for our work and the audience’s pleasure,” said Araouzos. “The Gallery proves to be ‘a home of the arts’ indeed, they have embraced Alpha Square and we have become a very strong team.”

Apart from the limited performances in the Gallery, the staged reading of Jules Tasca’s play will also be presented at Rialto Theatre on April 4 where audiences will be on stage along with the actors. Meanwhile back in Nicosia, the A.G. Leventis Gallery will continue its 8th-anniversary celebrations with a series of organised events including the opening of a new exhibition.

Live Drawing: A Portrait of the Mona Lisa

Staged reading by Christina Marouchou and Andreas Araouzos of Jules Tasca’s play. In celebration of the 8th anniversary of the A.G. Leventis Gallery. March 11-13, 18-20. A.G. Leventis Gallery, Nicosia. 8.30pm. Additional performances on Sunday afternoon at 6.30pm. April 4. Rialto Theatre, Limassol. 8.30pm. €10. In English. Book on www.tickethour.com.cy and ACS Courier. Tel: 7777-7040