Breakfast with Mugabe. Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at Pershing Square Signature Center (see Off Broadway). By Fraser Grace. Directed by David Shookhoff. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission.
Breakfast with Mugabe: in brief
Fraser Grace's 2005 thriller imagines a tense encounter between Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe and a white psychiatrist he consults for his depression. David Shookhoff directs the NYC premiere, which uses the same cast as his well-received 2010 staging in New Jersey.
Breakfast with Mugabe: theater review by David Cote
“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go,” Claudius notes regarding his erratic stepson, a maxim that has inspired playwrights from Shakespeare’s day to Alan Bennett’s. Now comes Fraser Grace’s taut meditation on guilt and power, Breakfast with Mugabe, in which white psychiatrist Andrew Peric (Ezra Barnes) is summoned to the presidential palace to treat Robert Mugabe (Michael Rogers), still the current head of Zimbabwe. Although the dictator is the one who’s sick, it’s the doctor’s health we should worry about.
Mugabe has lately been troubled by the ngozi, or ghost, of a dead comrade from the 1970s wars of liberation against white minority rule. These episodes have made him paranoid—more than usual, we must assume. His chic and imperious wife, Grace (Rosalyn Coleman), has begun fretting about her own safety. Rounding out the excellent cast is Che Ayende as inscrutable and intimidating bodyguard Gabriel (also, interestingly, Mugabe’s middle name). Balancing professional pride with a sensible concern for himself, Peric tries to tease out the mystery of Mugabe’s terror.
If you think the answer is simply a tyrant’s bad conscience over spilt blood, it’s not that simple. Grace’s play—directed with forceful simplicity by David Shookhoff—is tough-minded and unsentimental, gazing squarely at the postcolonial puzzle of modern-day Africa. It would take more than a degree in Freudian analysis to untangle all the neuroses and delusions of that disordered mind.—Theater review by David Cote
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote
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