David Greig (b. 1969) is a prominent and award-winning Scottish playwright whose work such as The American Pilot and The Events has been performed internationally. Several of his Strindberg translations have been performed in New York City. Produced by The National Theatre of Scotland in 2011, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is intended to be performed in pubs or bars.
The Heath, The McKittrick Hotel’s restaurant, bar and music venue, has been dressed up with appropriate signs and objects such as a stuffed wolf to resemble a pub in Scotland. After the audience seat themselves, actors roam around and talk with them. They’re told to rip up the white napkins on the tables into little pieces. Later, they’ll be cued to throw them in the air to simulate a snowstorm for a cool effect. They’re also told that there are complimentary shots of whiskey at the bar where other drinks are sold. During the intermission, the staff offers small ham and cheese sandwiches. It’s all quite atmospheric.
The five actors chat with each other and wonderfully perform Scottish folk songs. Eventually the actual play begins. It is December 21, 2010. Prudencia Hart is a spirited 28-year-old college teacher who is writing her Ph.D. thesis, “The Topography of Hell in Scottish Balladry.” After attending an academic conference with a rivalrous male colleague, she gets lost in a snowstorm and wind up at a bed and breakfast run by The Devil. A spooky clash of wills ensues.
Mr. Greig’s whimsical scenario has four of the actors playing a variety of roles and narrating the story. The dialogue is often comical and flavorful. There are rhyming couplets and topical references to apps, memes, Twitter and iPhones.
The pub performance concept though marvelously presented, at times side tracks the plot. With all of the singing and actors all over the place it’s easy to forget about Prudencia Hart.
The first act is very festive and leisurely sets everything up. The second act is more contained and has the meeting with the Devil, but there is still much that is extraneous.
Wils Wilson’s direction is a wondrous display of physical staging. Choreographer Janice Parker’s movement direction creates several fluid production numbers as the cast in masks disco dances in a karaoke bar to a soundtrack including Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” and a selection of Kylie Minogue.
Georgia McGuinness’ production design realistically conveys the décor of a Scottish pub. Ms. McGuinness provides some witty costumes including a green cloak for Prudencia, Hellish red boas and jackets, and white pants, a white blazer and a black shirt for The Devil. McGuinness’ lighting design ranges from the cheery brightness of the pub, to ominous darkness with the cast wafting about with small flashlights.
Musical director Alasdair Macrae forcefully and joyously coordinates the abundance and variety of songs and incidental music played on numerous instruments. Wearing a cowboy hat, the lanky, bearded and personable Mr. Macrae performs as part of the ensemble as well.
The charismatic, award-winning Scottish actress Melody Grove is compelling as Prudencia. Ms. Grove’s performance winningly conveys the character’s fierceness and wryness.
Veering from impish to menacing, and sporting a goatee, Peter Hannah is a wonderful Devil. The soulful Mr. Hannah fuses sensuality, animation and brooding for his intense characterization.
Paul McCole charmingly plays several roles including Prudencia’s combative suitor with flair.
Demonstrating musical comedy pizzazz is Annie Grace. Ms. Grace delightfully embodies several characters with her magnetically playful presence.
Starting 20 minutes after its announced show time and with an intermission, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart lasts two and a half hours. Ultimately, it’s a great deal of merriment without much dramatic impact.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (extends through March 26, 2017)
The National Theatre of Scotland and Emursive
The Heath at The McKittrick Hotel, 542 West 27th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.strangeundoing.com
Running time: two and a half hours with one intermission