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My Perfect Mind
The play is linked to a crucial episode in Petherbridge's real-life: He was invited to perform Lear years ago in Wellington, New Zealand. But two days into rehearsals he suffered a stroke. It left him partially paralyzed but remarkably able to recall the role of Lear in toto. Although many thespians would have thrown the Lear towel in, Petherbridge found inspiration in his aborted performance and started to develop My Perfect Mind with Told by an Idiot, along with the aforementioned talents of Kathryn Hunter (who has played Lear and the Fool) and Paul Hunter.
My Perfect Mind is no tragedy but gloriously irreverent and immense fun to watch. It combines a medley of set pieces from Lear, theatrical shoptalk, and nuggets of Petherbridge's own incredible theater journey. Petherbridge, by the bye, is a two-time Tony-award nominee, created the role of Guildenstern in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. He also co-founded The Actor's Company with Ian McKellen. And that's just skimming the surface of his many distinctions as an actor.
Petherbridge is joined on stage by the gifted Paul Hunter, the Artistic Director of Told by an Idiot. Hunter serves as a wonderful foil for Petherbridge's ruminations for the 90-minute performance. Their synergy on stage is undeniable.
Hunter insinuates himself into multiple persons, including a German scholar, a medical doctor, Petherbridge's mother (who in real-life suffered a stroke two days before Petherbridge's birth) and brother, and Sir Lawrence Olivier himself. Indeed Olivier spews rough and smooth advice on performing Lear to Petherbridge. Or as he aptly puts it: "If you do get to play King Lear yourself, remember; if it ain't broke, break it." No platitudes here. But the genuine spirit of having a go at a great role is very much alive.
. My Perfect Mind is in synch with the-less-is-more philosophy. You don't get the whole gamut of Lear<,/i> but the cream of the juggernaut remains intact. Performed on a steeply raked stage, the physical comedy alone as employed by Petherbridge and Hunter is unforgettable.
While the piece leans heavily into comedy, you can't help but have your heartstrings pulled now and then. Petherbridge isn't self-indulgent or navel-gazing here. But as he recites Lear's speeches, his own real-life experiences bleed into the tragedy. And you can sense the thespian's struggle of coming to terms with aging, his stroke, and the ghosts of the past.
When it comes to theater works informed by Lear, My Perfect Mind is an outlier. This two-hander is a must-see for Shakespeare enthusiasts. Petherbridge succeeds here by performing, not the tradtional Lear, but an off-beat meditation on the ancient king.
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