The bagpipe is already crying in the corner when you walk through the doors of the Factory Luxe, an event space inside the Old Rainier Brewery. If you've never been, the space is a giant rectangle with a stage at one end and a bar at the other. Audience members sit at tables arranged between the stage and bar, listening to variously rousing and mournful Scottish folk tunes picked and plucked with casual brilliance by the actors who will soon transform into the players of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.
Some people sing along—those people wear droopy tams and/or velvet, and I wish I were as alive as they are. Others content themselves with bagpipe thoughts: Shall I join the fight for Scottish sovereignty? Why is there only one bagpipe song, and why do I love it so?
Soon enough, playwright David Greig and director Wils Wilson's strange and funny tale, told mostly in ballad measure, unfolds between the tables and chairs of the makeshift pub. Prudencia is a folk scholar en route to an academic conference on the topic of Border Ballads, a form of Scottish poetry full of all sorts of supernatural occurrences and devilry. Prudencia is a purist who argues passionately for discovering the beauty of the ballads in their own historical context, while the rest of the academics—a feminist, a deconstructionist, and a cultural studies scholar—bend the ballads to support their own theories. After a disappointing showing at the conference and a dispiriting evening at a pub—where her longed-for traditional ceilidh (an after-hours party with live music and hard liquor) has been replaced by an enthusiasm for karaoke and gossipy storytelling—an aging hipster devil with a captive fantasy (all devils have captive fantasies) captures Prudencia and takes her to hell, which is a bed-and-breakfast where your life's work doesn't matter.
The actors are sharp and multitalented, the performances are solid, and I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing anyone from anywhere in the UK say phrases like "I'm shocked" or "pint of bitter." On a scale of Isolation Chamber to Greasy Orgy, this interactive show scores a solid four or five. A bald guy got a bucket of napkin shavings (snow) dumped on his head. If you have a cute boyfriend with the can-do demeanor of a Kennedy, there's a very small chance he's gonna get ridden like a pack mule. The actors are seasoned troubadours who pick their targets with care.
Though the story and language of Prudencia Hart is funny and delightfully cheesy—the actors seem to be having some genuine fun—I couldn't get past the depressing nature of the production's conceit. The idea of Prudencia Hart is to re-create the feeling of a ceilidh at a lock-in. The only problem is that I, like Ms. Hart, couldn't stop longing for the actual experience of a ceilidh at a lock-in. I kept fantasizing about some bar like the Redwood locking everybody in so that the theater kids in the corner could improv a weird little play and the bartenders could perform a little solo set or two until everyone got hammered enough to stumble home.
This fantasy evening would probably be cheaper than the play about how cool and necessary cheap fun is: The tickets for Prudencia cost $45, little cans of Rainier are $5, and it's $10 for a Scotch. And this play is not produced on a whim at the Redwood. It's mounted at the antiseptic-feeling Factory Luxe and feels more like it's for people who used to have cheap fun than for people who still do.