It begins, as all good pub shows should, with a wee dram of Scotch (what else for this very Scottish play, where the accents are even tastier than the whiskey?). The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, written by David Greig, is presented by the National Theatre of Scotland (remember their dazzling Black Watch?) at the mysterious and ultra-cool venue, The Heath at the McKittrick Hotel in the far west reaches of Chelsea. Note, when you go, the lurking taxidermied foxes in various dark corners.
Scottish playwright David Greig has had a considerable presence in Philadelphia in productions by small companies: Brewers Fayre, Midsummer, Letter of Last Resort . All are charming, interesting, and very different from one another. But “different” doesn’t begin to cover Prudencia Hart.
This is a hilarious po-mo meta-parody wrapped in an enchanting romantic ballad. It’s witty — full of clever wordplay, rhymed couplets, and jolly theatrics (the audience, seated at tables, rips up paper napkins and then flings the shreds in the air to make it snow).
The performers are wildly talented. Melody Grove is the lovely, primly, old-fashioned scholar Prudencia; Annie Grace plays multiple roles (including Siolaigha: “That Celtic name which so endeared her/Was just a poncy way of spelling Sheila”) and sings and plays multiple instruments as does Alasdair Macrae. Peter Hannah plays the sexy, seductive Devil — it is the night of the Devil’s Ceilidh (a “dance or party hosted by Satan and reputed to be held at exactly midnight on the winter solstice”). And Paul McCole plays Prudencia’s academic opposite, a motorcycle-driving, pop-culture celebrity scholar who studies football chants.
Prudencia is obsessed with Scottish Border ballads, so off she goes to a conference on said Scottish Borders to give a paper on their topography of Hell. And so, in the fullness of time, she will find herself out of time. In a post-conference gathering at a pub at midnight she is captured by the Devil himself. After several millennia pass and the relationship between the Devil and Pru has become both erotic and complicated (a tautology?), we find ourselves feeling sympathy for the devil as Pru sheds her prudishness. She is, as the title promises, “undone” in the best possible way.
The good-natured audience is part of the rambunctious fun — occasionally a lap is sat upon and a table is stood upon — but it is a testimony to Wils Wilson’s precision direction and the cast’s skill that what seems like a wild and wooly night in a snowy parking lot in a small town on the Scottish Borders is clearly beautifully choreographed. Don’t miss this one!
Extended through Feb. 28 at the McKittrick Hotel (542 West 27th St). For tickets and info: http://www.strangeundoing.com