Back from its 2016-2017 extended run, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart has returned to the McKittrick Hotel, this time at The Club Car. Decked out as a brightly lit, noisy pub, the space being an ideal setting for this boisterously playful and mystically enchanting piece of theater.
The performance opens as its five actors take to instruments and sing a rowdy tune based on an old Scottish poem, “Twa Corbies.” As the lyrics are virtually unintelligible to speakers of English, the audience is easily afforded the opportunity to take in the ensemble, observe the string-lit ceiling from which stained globe lights descend, the colorful onstage bar, and the other audience members seated at four-tops throughout the room, ripping up their paper napkins as instructed upon being seated.
The actors begin to tell their tale of a cold and record-breaking snowy night (cue bits of torn napkin thrown into the air) in Kelso, Scotland, where a postgraduate student named Prudencia Hart is attending a literary conference at which she’s been asked to speak (due to the success of her PhD on the “Topography of Hell.”) She’s annoyed to encounter Dr. Colin Syme, a colleague she considers “blokeish,” who’s “obsessed with his kit” (the drink in his hand) and who would “eat himself if he was a biscuit.” Stepping out of the ensemble to portray Hart and Syme are Charlene Boyd and Ewan Black, respectively.
Colin and Prudencia present at their conference; there is some debate which puts Prudencia off Colin even more, yet he manages to drag her to a pub for a drink and tries to woo her into dinner and sharing a bed. Disgusted with him, she heads out into the snow, gets lost trying to find the B&B she’s reserved for the night, and stumbles into the clutches of a devilish stranger (Gavin Jon Wright).
The rest of this tale will be left to future attendees of this theatrical, and it is strongly recommended that they do indeed attend it. The ensuing story is humorous, engaging, thought-provoking, and mesmerizing.
The play is presented much like a Greek chorus (only Scottish), where the actors step in and out of roles as they advance the storyline. Boyd gives a shrewd and passionate performance as Prudencia Hart. Black is delightful and endearing as the oafish Colin Syme. Emerging from the cast as the trickster Devil himself, Wright is riveting to watch. Actors Natali McCleary and Charlie West are indispensable, dropping in and out of their incidental various roles with aplomb and dexterity.
Director and co-creator Wils Wilson’s shaping and staging of this fascinating tale is expertly done. Movement director Janice Parker and her associate Jack Webb progress the actors around, through, over, and under the audience with brilliant cleverness. Music director and composer Alasdair Macrae works magic with the actors, employing their voices and their musical instruments, kazoos and bottle blowing among them, with utmost impact to the unfolding drama.
Writer and co-creator David Greig has created a unique and fascinating piece of theater. The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart appears nothing short of a modern epic poem, in which its protagonist must literally travel to hell and back (or did she?) to find both herself and her ability to love.
If you want to strip a lover
first you must yourself uncover
and if that’s true with clothes it’s true with a heart
If you want one opened up first start
By opening up your own, let fall
A gap where once there was a wall
The only setback to this otherwise astonishing production paradoxically lies in its gifts of language and delivery. The richly poetic nature of the words, the speed and accent in which they’re spoken sometimes interferes with understanding the story, much like watching a Shakespeare play. However, the audience eventually can eventually catch up, and the experience is worth the climb. To be transparent, a copy of the script allowed a further appreciation of the piece, something which the audience was not otherwise afforded (although it can be purchased from on-line retailers). As fantastic a read as the script gives, however, it is even more appreciated by this excellence staging, and is not to be missed.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (through April 30, 2023)
The Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel, in Manhattan
For tickets visit https://mckittrickhotel.com/prudencia-hart
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