Los Angeles Theater Review: THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART (Broad Stage in Santa Monica)

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by Mia Bonadonna on January 18, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, David Greig’s ghostly, song-filled tale of a mousy academic in search of artful Scottish balladry, is running at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The National Theatre of Scotland creates a night in Kelso as central character Prudencia faces her demons in a bawdy, snowed-in pub where the audience is both spectator and contextual participant. Despite marketing and critical acclaim that lauds Prudencia Hart as an irreverently unique, boozy good time; this reviewer found this theatrical import to be far less stimulating.

IMG_8017Greig’s work is not a traditional stage play. It follows introverted post-grad ballad archivist Prudencia, as she makes her way through a night of never-ending annoyances and soul-confronting fear. The ensemble seamlessly and frequently transitions from actor to musician while oozing romanticized notions of Scottish folk culture. They charge around the playing area to tell Prudencia’s story via song, mythical overtones, thickly brogued dialogue, and small bits of assistance from viewers.

Prudencia Hart is scripted as a site-specific work to be performed in a darkly furnished, dimly lit pub as hops and course obscenity waft through the air. Indeed, the story begins in a pub: After Prudencia abandons the local carousers, she loses her way in the snow, and finally meets the comforting proprietor of a bed-and-breakfast. There, she discovers 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. But Prudencia, a collector of songs, has met the ultimate collector of souls, and her suave and diabolical host 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.

Theoretically, all of this eager and active story telling should be an exciting experience, but — script issues aside — in practice it’s a hard lesson in staging a play in the wrong space. This production is not theatrical or technically tight enough to fully recreate an entire history-drenched environment capable of transporting the audience to a far off rural pub in Scotland’s borderlands. Sticking bar tables in a brightly-lit, coldly IMG_7973concrete open black box space greatly diminishes the potential magic. Simply put, the pseudo-pub at the Broad’s Edye Second Space just does not work.

Perhaps intoxication is necessary to truly love this devilish tale. Without a gut full of earthy whiskey, several staging missteps from Greig and director Wils Wilson become blaringly apparent: This production puts almost no effort into lighting; the plot moves slowly and often meanders pointlessly through cheesy rhyme scheme; and the minimalist set forces the cast to use both gimmicky audience participation (the snow is provided by patrons who toss up their shredded napkins) and physical acting tricks that leave viewers feeling jaded by the end of the first act.

Critical griping aside, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart does have its merits as well. The cast – Annie Grace, Melody Grove, Alasdair Macrae, Paul McCole, and David McKay — is a multi-talented, charming ensemble that is a far and refreshingly rustic cry from the plasticized actors that so frequently muck up our Los Angeles stages. The talented Prudencia performers exude weathered warmth, and eagerly share truly energizing music. Cast stand-out Grace beautifully pulses with raw affinity and spellbinding intimacy, giving a performance that lingers in the mind for days. Fortunately, for every nauseating line of rhyme stuff, there are moments of darkly poetic, chilling loveliness that almost make this performance worth the trip.

If you attend, you would be well advised to slam back a few shots first; then, you might also have the gumption to beg the producers to move their show someplace local that smells of piss and whiskey.

photos by Drew Farrell

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
National Theatre of Scotland
Edye Second Space at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage
1310 11th St. in Santa Monica
scheduled to end on February 8, 2014
for tickets, call 310.434.3200 or visit www.thebroadstage.com

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