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Theater Report: My Perfect Mind (part one, not actually about the show yet)

Your Humble Blogger went to New York to see an off-Broadway show this past weekend. It was My Perfect Mind, and I enjoyed it a lot, but I don’t think it was a very good show. It’s hard to tell, because I enjoyed it so much.

I have to start with Edward Petherbridge, the star and subject of the thing, and that probably means I have to start with the broadcast of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby on Great Performances (I think, definitely PBS) when I was, oh, fourteen or so. I could look all this stuff up, now. I could look up the dates of broadcast and whether it was Great Performances or Masterpiece Theater (now a diminished Masterpiece) or just a PBS presentation. I could find out whether it broadcast in the winter or summer; I have no recollection of that.

I remember watching it, in our TV room, with my mother, and possibly my father, although I don’t know that I remember him watching, or his reaction, and I do not associate the show with the smell of cigarettes, so either he did not watch or he had already given up the smokes. I don’t remember exactly when that happened, either, and although that isn’t on Wikipedia, I could probably figure it out, if I tried hard enough. I don’t want to. I want to have that half-memory, unbound by historical detail. I don’t think historical detail necessarily enhances the memory of falling in love.

What did I fall in love with, back then, more or less the age my daughter is now? The theater, definitely, and its suddenly expanded possibilities. Charles Dickens, maybe, and his preposterously generous, sprawling, profligate, incident-laden stories? Nicholas himself, and his righteous anger. More than anything, probably, I fell in love with Newman Noggs, as portrayed by Edward Petherbridge. Well, in love with the portrayal—not even the character of Noggs, but the style of acting, the technique and facility, the movement, the inventiveness, the surprising line readings, the control… I think, more than anything, I fell in love with the possibility of my being able, someday, to perform in something like that style.

Not that I have achieved that. Nor will I, now, at anything like that level. But I still love the idea of it. If I could be a great actor, I would want to be that kind of great actor. If I have any idea about what kind of great actor that would be. Or how to explain it to you, Gentle Reader.

There are clips, of course. There’s a compilation of Newman Noggs scenes from NickNick. Here’s a clip from Krapp’s Last Tape that shows much of the same inventiveness and control used to a very different purpose. Here’s a… thing of some kind and here’s another. I rather like this bit of a lecture on undulation, too. For no good reason, here’s a photograph of him as Volpone. And what the hell, a photograph of him in the background sitting next to Rory Kinnear, with Ian McKellen and Eleanor Bron in the foreground of The Real Inspector Hound, put on by what was called the McKellen/Petherbridge group of the National Theatre. That must have been a thing, hm?

One more photograph, this one is of Mr. Petherbridge and Paul Hunter, in The Fantasticks a few years ago. Mr. Petherbridge is playing Henry, the tatterdemalion old vagabond actor; Mr. Hunter is playing Mortimer, the One Who Dies.

The Fantasticks

That show was evidently a flop of Carriesque proportions.

Not the point, not the point. The point is that Edward Petherbridge was one of my first and largest acting-crushes, in some sense of that term I just made up. And that production—I’m talking again of the television broadcast of NickNick—inspired a tremendous number of those acting-crushes, on Mr. Petherbridge and Mr. Rees and Mr. Woodvine and Mr. Armstrong, too, and Mr. Peck, I suppose (I do love Bob Peck’s performance, but it’s not one I particularly wish I was capable of giving myself, not my sort of thing at all) and theater tech crushes too, I suppose, on the magnificent staging techniques and so forth. I don’t quite want to say that theater people meet at it as a shrine, like lovers at the bridge of locks, but it is one of those things that make connections between people.

Anyway, Edward Petherbridge put together a sort of theatrical performance that has been touring around the UK (and I think perhaps Spain?) and it came to America for a few weeks, and a Gentle Reader of this blog and I (who shares my feeling for NickNick and Mr. Petherbridge) decided that we would go, dammit. Just buy the tickets, go to New York and see the show! And we did!

But this note is already too long; I’ll talk about the show in the next one.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.