Rarely have I left a theater full of the sense of elation I felt at the end of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. It all seemed so unlikely: after the catastrophe of Fram the chances of getting me inside a theater for a verse play (rhyming couplets no less) were hovering below zero. But the word on the street was that the show actually worked (and, in fact, was good) – the text and the unusual location (inside the pub at the top of the Welsh Center) blending together and reinforcing each other. By the time I’d decided I should go, it was almost too late – but Royal Court $10 Mondays are still in effect and I managed to snag a day-of seat. And for a bargain hunter like me it was a complete bonanza, as everyone is offered a free shot of whiskey AND free sandwiches in the venue! I was sold before it even started. Whee!
The concept of this play is that there is a female academic studying ballads (Prudencia Hart, Melody Grove) who gets snowed in while visiting Kelso for a conference. She winds up not just stuck with her most irritating colleague, but locked in a pub where a bad folk night somehow transitions into a nightmarish karaoke evening, celebrating the shortest night of the year. And then ….
Well, somehow, with this fairly plebeian setting, you wouldn’t expect this story to make the transition to High Ballad Fairy Tale very well, but because of the use of the couplets all the way through (until the interval), I was already in a mindset of heightened reality – rules were being broken and, well, _things_ were possible, especially after the shock of the blackout. And, may I mention, the lighting design for this show was REALLY good – flashlights, candles, and normal florescents all combined to create a very magical atmosphere. (That said I had some problems with the sound design and lost about 20% of the words – something about people ten feet away speaking with their backs to me while a stand fan roared behind me was not working. I actually checked the script at one point during the play to figure out something I’d missed. That’s not good.)
At the end of the show we were cheering and singing and, even if we’d been encouraged by the cast, well, I was completely into it. I’d just been on, not an undoing, but an amazing journey with one Miss Prudencia Hart, and there was a lot to be happy about (including the fantastic music, much thanks to Annie Grace’s talents, including her lovely voice). And YOU might cheer because 1) as it’s cooled outside, the pub is much more pleasant and 2) although it’s sold out, there will a final series of shows in Peckham from August 5th through 9th.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, July 29th at 8 PM. Its final date at the Welsh Center is August 3rd. And boo to the Royal Court for merely listing the actors as “cast” – there isn’t even any photos on the website to help me, so I wasn’t able to credit even one of the men who performed in this show.)