By Bonnie Goldberg

In the illustrious world of luminaries, no one would dispute putting the revered names of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti high on the list.  These two sixteenth century artists have proven their genius many times over, Leonardo with his paintings of “The Last Supper” and the “Mona Lisa” and his inventions of such imaginative things as a flying machine and Michelangelo with his sculptures of the Pieta and David and his paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Artistic director Michael Wilson is presenting the world premiere of “Divine Rivalry” at the Hartford Stage until Sunday, March 20, his final work as the theater’s leader.  Penned by Michael Kramer, it is the intriguing tale of these two larger than life personalities, set in Florence, Italy in 1504, and the master manipulator Machiavelli who had a mighty mission of his own.

Chancellor Machiavelli, played with cleverness and shrewdness by Scott Parkinson, and aided by the wishes and concerns of Soderini, a convincing Simon Jones, Gonfaloniere of the Republic of Florence, have an agenda:  to spark an artistic competition between Leonardo and Michelangelo to engender pride in the citizens of Florence and fear in their enemies.  The paintings of two triumphant battle scenes, of Anghiari and of Cascina, are to be judged and the result will hopefully be a war chest to finance an army of men from Florence instead of the mercenaries who are doing an ineffective job of protection.

Peter Strauss’s magnificent Leonardo and Aaron Krohn’s competitive minded Michelangelo soon accept the challenge but

complications and delays mark their lack of progress.  Machiavelli’s proddings and Soderini’s anxieties only serve to infuriate the two artists and spur them on to pursue the intense rivalry that marks their relationship.  Inspired by real events, the drama is an absorbing look into the egos and psyches of these two artistic geniuses and the master puppeteer who tried to control them.

For tickets ($23-66), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org.  Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.  Matinees are Sunday at 2 p.m. and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Revel in the Renaissance as a trio of great and powerful minds use art as a tool to advance their own needs for personal and political gain.


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