Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Perfect Mind

Here is how My Perfect Mind is described in press materials and on the 59e59 website:

Petherbridge, Hunter
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Acclaimed classical actor and two-time Tony Award nominee Edward Petherbridge was cast as King Lear, when on the second day of rehearsals he suffered a stroke that left him barely able to move. As he struggled to recover Edward made a discovery: the entire role of Lear still existed word for word in his mind.

From being on the brink of playing one of Shakespeare's most revered roles, to lying in a hospital bed surrounded by doctors, Edward never imagined what tragedies and comedies lay in store for him.

I would have liked to see that play.

Instead, My Perfect Mind, starring Edward Petherbridge and Paul Hunter, directed by Kathryn Hunter, and written by Kathryn Hunter, Paul Hunter, and Edward Petherbridge (a cozy trio!), is an occasionally incomprehensible riff/sketch comedy on Petherbridge's life, full of theatrical in-jokes. I guess such in-jokes have their audience (see also 10 out of 12). After all, we all like to feel in the know. But someone without a serious theatre background could easily be lost; these are not the references to popular musicals seen in Something Rotten. 

As the play unfolds, skit by skit, chairs slide around, paint gets thrown, speeches get made, Petherbridge's past is more or less re-created, doctors pass through, famous performers show up, and on and on. Some skits are funny; some are moving; many are hard to follow; others are pointless.

In a play like this, the star's likability is key. Petherbridge is very likable, saving the far-too-long show from being totally annoying. (It was ~100 minutes without intermission at the performance I saw.) Everyone who is not Edward Petherbridge is played by Paul Hunter. He pops in and out, switches wigs, changes voices, and extends a great deal of energy. He's better in some parts than others, and it's not always clear who he's playing at any given moment. His performance is more valiant than impressive.

It's always iffy to criticize a show for not being what you want it to be, but in this case, I only wanted what it was advertised: the story of a man who has a stroke, yet retains an entire Shakespearean role in his head. For all the effort of My Perfect Mind, I would have preferred it if Petherbridge had just told us his story.

(7th row, press ticket)

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