Chicago Theater Review: THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART (Chicago Shakespeare)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART (Chicago Shakespeare)

by Lawrence Bommer on September 28, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

A PUB CRAWL FROM FOLKLORE INTO FANTASY

The black-box stage on the sixth floor of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Navy Pier complex is now a Scottish pub. In these still-dark confines beneath the café lights, a sweet but scary story gets recounted among the tavern tables, on top of chairs, and—representing hell—all over Oriental carpets at the center of this promenading production.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart at Chicago Shakespeare TheaterThis very communal offering from the National Theater of Scotland, created by writer David Greig and director Wils Wilson, features five very apt performers. The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is an eclectic adventure, a happy hybrid and rousing ensemble triumph that combines a pseudo-Faustian legend of soul-selling with a very offbeat love story. Graced with perfectly controlled moods of whimsy, satire, dourness, and delight, the two-act, site-specific romp successfully transports an uptight Edinburgh academic to hell and back. But here familiarity breeds no contempt: This wry Scots’ retelling won’t be confused for a moment with Marlowe, Goethe, Gounod, or Stephen Vincent Benet.

Playing a variety of characters amidst the pub-style seating, Wilson’s manic quintet rush from table to table, play instruments (the bagpipe and kazoo among them), croon vintage Border ballads, indulge in karaoke excess, improvise with props, and swill down booze from a plentiful bar—the same bar from which you can purchase imbibements for yourself. The versatile ensemble tells how the title character changes from a repressed musicologist studying the “topography of hell” (as depicted by the folk songs of the Borders region) to a loved and loving lady who discovers the joy of singing songs as much as studying them.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart at Chicago Shakespeare TheaterWith delicious details enriching some terrific tale-spinning, Greig’s narrative depicts how, in  one ordinary weekend in Kelso, the timid yet uptight Prudencia (lively, lovely Melody Grove) abandons the revelers of a local pub and loses her way in the snow (provided by audience members who toss up their shredded napkins). When she finally meets the comforting proprietor of the bed-and-breakfast where she seeks shelter, she discovers that it’s furnished with hundreds of thousands of books, many that should have been penned, but most that were actually written, with some of those sadly lost to time. A collector of songs has met the ultimate collector of souls. Her suave host (diabolical David McKay) thereupon imprisons Prudencia for millennia. Harshly disciplining her but regaling her with lost lore that gratifies all her scholarly inquiries, this Lowland Lucifer ultimately falls in love with his precious prisoner.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart at Chicago Shakespeare TheaterHappily, Prudencia escapes and breaks through a crack of time to return to 2010 where she falls for her rescuer, a local big-headed biker lout named Colin (Andy Clark) who’d earlier been her worst enemy (his tug of war with Satan is a happy excuse for daffy props and rapid-fire sight gags). Now, humbled into humanity, Prudencia has a keener insight into why the songs she’s studied were written in the first place; she even sings one karaoke-style, except, alas, it’s an Australian irrelevancy.

Richly rhyming and embellished by Alasdair Macrae’s “new” folk classics (sung beautifully by Annie Grace), Greig’s supple script teems with witty dismissals of pompous musicologists, shrewd parodies of Gothic landscapes, and unashamedly poetic passages about human frailties and demonic despair. It’s sprawling fun which may be perhaps too scattershot for some and, at 150-minutes, excessive for others. The audience participation ranges from one brave soul becoming an object of desire to the entire room being encouraged to sing a strange tribute to Colin in his underwear, sung to the tune of “Guantanemera.” Any quibbles are overlooked as Prudencia bracingly combines cleverness and compassion to reinvent folk songs from the inside out.

photos by Drew Farrell

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
presented by National Theatre of Scotland, Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare
scheduled to end on October 28, 2012
for tickets call 312-595-5600 or visit http://www.chicagoshakes.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

Comments on this entry are closed.