by Britttany Crowell
The Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel (also home of famed immersive theater piece, ‘Sleep No More’) is a destination in itself. Guests are guided onto a rickety (but in a charming way) elevator that transports them out up. They then venture past an old ticket booth and down a narrow hallway, containing train cars with private seating along one side and a charmingly old-fashioned bar on the other.
This bar is the setting of ‘The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,’ which had its award-winning premier in 2016 at the McKittrick and has been revived for a limited engagement (through April 30). The bar is open before the show for collecting libations, guests are seated at cocktail tables throughout the space, and one of the hosts stops by and asks you to rip up some napkins, “for a snow effect at some point in the show.”
What followed was a delightful surprise! Our heroine, Prudencia Hart, is a folk music scholar and enthusiast who stumbles upon a bout of bad weather on the way to a folk music debate in 2010 Scotland (cue our ripped napkin snowfall magically wafting through the space and settling on tables, chairs, and floor for an ongoing effect of fresh snow). When the snowfall strands Prudencia and fellow folk-debater (and also kind-of nemesis) Colin in a small town, they make their way to a wee pub for the evening, where things begin to unravel.
A story about finding yourself and letting go, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is as full of prose as it is of heart; as full of humor as it is of smarts. The actors, played by a tight cast of five, bring vivacious and energetic performances into the space, elevating the story beyond a tall tale told at a pub and bringing to life a rancid karaoke night party, a haunting song of a lost soul in the dark, a sexy romp with the devil, and much more.
Many cast members played multiple roles within the tale: Charlene Boyd unraveled in fabulous fashion as the prudish beauty-seeker Prudencia; Ewan Black paraded the space with all of the charming bravado of Colin; Natali McCleary provided a haunting and saucy performance as a series of ghostly and scholarly townsfolk; Charlie Weat led the narrative with a calm yet playful hand; Gavin John Wright delivered devilish coy to the second act.
Co-created by David Greig (writer) and Wils Wilson (director), along with designer Georgia McGuinness, the piece both embraces its environment and transports you to new spaces. Players jump (and lie and dance) atop your table, light the candles in your midst, shine lights through utter darkness, and utilize audience members themselves as tools for weaving the tale. Music by Alasdar Macrae helps not only set a tone but also aids in the creation of the environment and the telling of the story.
By the end of the piece, the floor is littered with popcorn pebbles, papery snowflakes, rogue ice cubes, and a myriad of liquids. Prucencia Hart is a piece that charms in its simplicity, while packing a folky punch. As Prudencia searches for beauty (and begins to let her hair down), the tale of her undoing is one that will stick with you for many moons after; I’ll bet you just “can’t get [it] out of [your] head.”
THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART – co-created by David Greig (writer) & Wils Wilson (director)
FEATURING: Ewan Black; Charlene Boyd; Natali McCleary; Charlie Weat; Gavin Jon Wright
Designed by Georgia McGuinness; Music direction and composition by Alasdair Macrae; movement by Janice Parker; associate movement director, Jack Webb; associate director (Scotland) Andrea Cabrera Luna; associate director (US) Hunter Bird. Produced by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Double M Arts & Events: producers Neil Murray & Michael Mushalla. Through April 30. McKittrick Hotel, Club Car: 530 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001. https://mckittrickhotel.com/prudencia-hart