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November 29, 2012 12:10 am


'The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,' presented by the National Theatre of Scotland, is a storytelling show based on the Border ballads and performed in a Washington pub.



What happens when a prim academic wanders out into the Scottish Borderlands at midnight on the winter solstice?

Naturally one expects--but wait. As anyone familiar with Scottish ballads knows, there's nothing natural about such goings on. And so it is for Prudencia Hart.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company is presenting the National Theatre of Scotland's production of "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart," a rollicking mashup of theatrical high jinks being played out in an actual pub.

The setting is the Bier Baron Tavern, a brick-walled pub near Dupont Circle that provides a suitable ambiance for Prudencia's tale.

She's a student of Scottish folklore, specifically the early ballads of the Border area with their tales of supernatural doings and doomed love. She goes to an academic conference in that area, but is stranded in a local pub after a huge snowstorm.

When the pub gets to be too much for her, Prudencia sets out on foot to find a bed-and-breakfast, escorted by a man named Nick. What happens next is definitely not natural.

The tale, written by David Greig, is told in bits and pieces by each of the five cast members--Andy Clark, Annie Grace, Melody Grove, Alasdair Macrae and David McKay.

The action takes place throughout the pub, in and among the audience members, so be careful where you sit. I, for instance, ended up with a pair of men's trousers draped over my head, and a couple of the cast members used our table for a platform at various times during the show.

Director Wils Wilson has created wonderful visuals in the absence of a more traditional stage setting.

There's Prudencia driving to the conference in the snowstorm, sitting on the bar with her hands properly at 10 and 2, while McKay and Clark hold flashlights where the headlights should be. McKay even has a yellow flasher for a right-turn signal, while Clark holds a rearview mirror. Macrae slowly waves the windshield wiper back and forth, clearing off the snowflakes.

And there's Macrae, moving a red-backed book along an invisible shelf as Prudencia discovers volume 1 through 11 of Sir Walter Scott's "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border" in Nick's library.

The whole cast pitches in to create the lovely Scottish music that permeates the show. There's Grace on recorder and bagpipes, Macrae on violin and guitar, while McKay beats the bodhran. Both McKay and Clark play guitar and banjo as well, and they all sing.

"Prudencia" is not a nonstop laugh riot. The energy drops off considerably while Prudencia is in Hell with Nick, and the show never quite regains the intensity and fun of its first half.

It's also fairly bawdy, so if that sort of thing bothers you, this will not be your cup of tea. Speaking of which, theater-goers may purchase an astounding variety of beers or even wine or spirits to enjoy during the performance. (Legal ID required for entrance.)

So "Prudencia" is funny, at least to start with, and it's definitely different. It also provides charming music to enjoy. But it's not for everyone.

Lucia Anderson is a writer in Woodbridge.

What: "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart" When: Through Dec. 9 Where: Bier Baron Tavern, 1523 22nd St. NW, Washington Tickets: $50 Info: 202/547-1122;

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