Off-Broadway Theater Review: MY PERFECT MIND (59E59 Theaters)

by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 16, 2015

in Theater-New York

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THEIR PERFECT MINDS

Written by director Kathryn Hunter and performers Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge, My Perfect Mind begins with Dr. Witznagel (Mr. Hunter) coming out onto Michel Vale’s slanted-floor set in white lab coat, an absurd curly wig, and speaking with a cartoony German accent, and telling us about “EPS…Edward Petherbridge Syndrome.” He informs us that the man we are about to meet is under the delusion that he is an actor, that he was in Lawrence Olivier’s company at the Old Vic, was the original Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and that he has even written a fictitious autobiography, which he’s peddling in the lobby. In fact, Witznagel reveals, the man we are about to meet, who thinks he is Edward Petherbridge, is King Lear.

Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge in MY PERFECT MIND. Photo by  Manuel Harlan

At this point Mr. Petherbridge enters, under the delusion that he is himself. He comments on the pretentiousness of the slanted set, tells a few anecdotes, then starts in as King Lear; he performs the parts of Lear’s daughters, as well as of some of the other characters from that play. But before long Mr. Hunter takes off his wig, becoming Mr. Hunter, and says to Mr. Petherbridge that he doesn’t think they should start the show in this way.

Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge in MY PERFECT MIND. Photo by  Manuel Harlan

Mostly scripted, partially improvised, My Perfect Mind, loosely structured around the stroke Mr. Petherbridge suffered in real life some years ago while in rehearsals for King Lear in New Zealand, feels like free form, stream-of-consciousness theater. The players’ remarkable talent and mastery of craft make everything they do feel effortless, almost casual, immediate, spontaneous and personal. The fun they are having acting and play-acting, conjuring up different characters—such as Petherbridge’s parents, a New Zealand cab driver, Lawrence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh—is infectious. Even the bits that might seem a touch corny on paper—such as a pun about a level playing field in reference to the raked rostrum—the performers’ commitment and Ms. Hunter’s sharp, organic direction, turn into living moments one can take joy in unapologetically.

Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge in MY PERFECT MIND. Photo by  Manuel Harlan

It’s difficult not to be delighted by this thoroughly self-conscious theatrical fantasia about theater, about acting as living and playing. Throughout the show the performers comment on theater’s artificiality, as when Mr. Petherbridge stops himself in the middle of making a sweeping arm gesture, “Do you think anyone does that gesture in life? It’s actors who do that, not people. Oh, fuck it!” and he does the gesture. Or as when, miming lifting a drink, Mr. Petherbridge sighs, “Mime can be so unsatisfying.”

Edward Petherbridge and Paul Hunter in MY PERFECT MIND. Photo by  Manuel Harlan

There is even a comment on the fact that the show doesn’t have a proper climax: “We can’t end like this,” says Mr. Petherbridge to Mr. Hunter at one point towards the finish. And, to an extent, this is true—so many threads are introduced throughout the performance that it’s impossible to tie them all up without making the show “theatrical,” and thereby breaking with the knowing, free flowing, whimsical style of the piece. But My Perfect Mind is such fun, the details of the performances so lovely, that the absence of a perfect conclusion hardly matters.

Edward Petherbridge and Paul Hunter in MY PERFECT MIND. Photo by  Manuel Harlan photos by Manuel Harlan

My Perfect Mind
Told By An Idiot, Young Vic, and Theatre Royal Plymouth
59E59 Theaters
ends on June 28, 2015
for tickets, call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org

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