Theater Review: “My Perfect Mind” at 59E59 in New York City
My Perfect Mind, co-written and directed by Kathryn Hunter (who portrayed Mrs. Figg in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), is a playful—and at times bewildering but in the best kind of way—examination of an actor’s relationship to the part of King Lear, a role that a stroke prevented him from playing on the stage.
A two-man show, My Perfect Mind stars Edward Petherbridge as himself, exploring the impact a stroke had on his life, and Paul Hunter in an impressive variety of other roles, including (but not limited to!) a German brain doctor, Laurence Olivier, a cab driver, the director of the production of Lear Edward was supposed to star in, and Petherbridge’s mother. Despite its serious subject matter, My Perfect Mind is a lively and spirited show, full of clowning, but still manages to be both moving and thought provoking.
Going into the play, I had missed somehow that it was autobiographical—in 2007 Edward Petherbridge did, indeed, suffer a stroke just before he was supposed to star in a production of King Lear. Drawn from his experience, My Perfect Mind explores Petherbridge’s childhood, career in the theater, stroke, recovery, and even the creation of the production itself – all in a delightfully disorienting manner. At times you watch scenes from Petherbridge’s past while at others you see glimpses of the Lear he might have been. The sparse staging—just a white tilted platform, a table and two chairs, white wall canvas, and a few small props—allows easy shifts between the comic and the dramatic; one minute you’re watching Lear rage about the stage, the next you’re seeing Petherbridge sing “Chickery Chick” at a children’s talent competition.
At 90 minutes with no intermission, the play clips along briskly from joke to joke—you might not catch them all, but you’ll be laughing out loud at the ones that you do. Though it’s certainly possible to enjoy this play with no theater background, Shakespeare nerds and those who have worked on or backstage before will have a leg up on catching all the tongue-in-cheek references and jibes. In fact, that was one of my favorite parts of the play—despite being “theatre” rather than “theater,” as one of my friends likes to put it, My Perfect Mind never takes itself too seriously, poking fun at pretentious theater conventions even as it employs them. What’s more, Petherbridge and Hunter do an artful job with the play’s rapid changes in tone, moving from sincere to absurd with barely even a blink. By the end of the production, you’ve seen a farce, a commentary on a life spent in the theater, an autobiographical work about a man who’s lived a fascinating life, and a story of trauma and recovery all rolled into one.
My Perfect Mind isn’t for everybody—those who prefer their theater straightforward and filled with musical numbers are better off sticking to Broadway proper—but those who want something to make them think along with the laughs will find much to treasure here.
Be sure to read our interview with Kathryn Hunter right here!