To Dr. Peric, he is just another patient.
That is the premise of the British playwright Fraser Grace’s trenchant, magnificently acted “Breakfast With Mugabe,” now having its New York premiere. It was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon in England, and the company’s interest is of little wonder: in Mr. Grace’s capable hands, Mugabe rightfully deserves a seat alongside Macbeth, Richard III and other tragic, power-siphoning Shakespearean antiheroes.
Mr. Grace’s script was inspired by news reports that Mr. Mugabe sought counsel from a white psychiatrist during a bout of depression.
In this fictionalized rendering, the president is plagued by the malevolent spirit (known as an ngozi) of a political rival who died under suspicious circumstances. Paralyzed, Mugabe (Michael Rogers, whose performance builds from slow burn to full-on conflagration) and his wife (a machinating Rosalyn Coleman) send not for a traditional healer but for Dr. Peric, who has treated other Zimbabweans afflicted by unwelcome spirits. This doctor, as it turns out, has problems of his own, as he is at risk of losing his home to political unrest and the government’s controversial land reform program.
Even so, Dr. Peric (an unshakable Ezra Barnes) fearlessly sets the ground rules with his new patient, insisting on structured, uninhibited sessions and the right to call the president by his first name. Mugabe, of course, already has qualms about seeking treatment from a white authority figure after having built his entire career and identity on opposition to white colonialists.
What follows is less a cooperative, therapeutic relationship than an unwinking power struggle. We are left to wonder whether Mugabe ever believed that his cure lay in psychotherapy, or whether the real tonic was to come from subjugating the man summoned to help him.
“Breakfast With Mugabe” runs through Oct. 6 at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater, 480 West 42nd Street, Clinton; (212) 279-4200, breakfastwithmugabe.com.