My Perfect Mind: Theater review by Helen Shaw
The best part of the theater is that it's so full of theater people, all of them having a gossip, dropping handfuls of names and confiding their war stories. And so if My Perfect Mind were simply theatrical treasure Edward Petherbridge holding forth on his experiences, we would have been amply satisfied. At 78, Petherbridge has deep roots in the British stage—he created the role of Guildenstern in Stoppard's classic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—so he could just tell us tales about Laurence Olivier in the lunch line, and we would wriggle like puppies. But this sweetly shaggy double act between Petherbridge and Paul Hunter is actually many things: part account of Petherbridge's 2007 stroke, which stopped him from performing as King Lear; part rollicking biographical ride; part clown show between two improvisers who like overstuffing their jokes; part King Lear itself, the lines anchoring the sometimes fragile-seeming Petherbridge.
And somehow, these many parts do make a whole. Paul Hunter's company Told by an Idiot specializes in devised work, and co-authors Hunter, Petherbridge and Kathryn Hunter (who also directs) have made something that appears wobbly but that in truth has heft and balance. The show revels in its own unpruned quality; the introductory gag (Hunter enters as a German neurologist) is actually rather bad, and hearts sink until the pair admits its shortcomings, a twist that then turns into its own comic lazzi. In this way, the material constantly stays ahead of the audience. Petherbridge greets the show's basic, raked platform set with a weary sigh. “Slapdash and pretentiousness are two sides of the same coin,” he murmurs as he begins to toil up its incline. His droll melancholy adds astringency to Hunter's expert silliness.
My Perfect Mind gets its zing from its insouciant attitude to Petherbridge's stroke; it gets its literary scope from frequent flights into Shakespeare's play, the text itself an antidote to frailty. It's that rare thing, a play about the terrors to come that somehow operates on a wholly delightful level. Like Lear's own Fool, it makes us laugh at the storm.—Helen Shaw
59E59 (Off Broadway). By Kathryn Hunter, Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge. Directed by Kathryn Hunter. With Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.