The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is a unique, otherworldly and exhilarating experience. Part of that comes from the fact that supernatural forces are main characters in the play. The other part stems from the play being presented in a bar.
This inventive play from the National Theatre of Scotland was a hit at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and will be performed for Miami audiences at Bar 337 from Wednesday, Feb. 19 through Sunday, Feb. 23. The play was brought to Miami through the efforts of Kathryn Garcia, executive director of MDC Live Arts.
When speaking about Prudencia Hart, Garcia said it's difficult to sum up the plot without giving away spoilers.
"It's hard to wrap up in a nutshell," Garcia said with a laugh. "Essentially, it's a love story, just like all good stories. It just happens to involve all sorts of unusual elements like the devil and karaoke. It's the story of Prudencia Hart, really. It's the story of a very uptight, rigid person who, through a ton of unexpected occurrences, learns how to open herself up to the world and open herself up to love."
For Garcia, opening up wasn't so difficult. Once introduced, it was love at first sight.
"I was invited last year to see the play when it was in Washington D.C. It was the Washington Shakespeare Company that presented it," she said, mentioning that she believed the play's local stint would be the second time the play has toured in the U.S.
"I knew immediately that it had to come to Miami," she said.
The allure of the play comes from its interactive elements.
"It's kind of an out-of-the box theatrical experience. It's not the kind of thing where you go to the theater, sit down, the curtain opens, and you watch the play from your seat, removed from the action," she said. "This is completely interactive; it happens in a bar, which just makes for great fun. It happens on your table, all around you, on top of the bar. So the audience gets immersed in this out-of-this-world experience."
Wils Wilson, the director of Prudencia Hart supported Garcia's experience when talking about the origins of the play.
"It's really an idea that myself and the writer, David Greig, had been talking about for a little while; about how stories have always been told around the fire, in a pub, in a bar, in sort of a convivial space where there might be music, dancing and stories told," said Wilson. "That idea of a communal sharing of a story, getting back to the simplicity and excitement of what words can do in a room and strip away some of the conventions of theater."
The foundation of Prudencia Hart stems from the Scottish-English tradition of border ballads.
"[Border ballads] are probably not widely known in America," Wilson said, laughing. "They're a collection of narrative poems collected in the 19th century. They're kind of folk tales told in long, rhyming poems and, very often, they are songs as well. So this is where the idea of the ballad comes from," she said. "It's an old ballad form that happened to exist in the border between Scotland and England, which was always known as a kind of wild and lawless place where anything could happen."
Interactive theater is something Wilson is very close to, particularly because of the intimate relationship created with the audience.
"It's probably my favorite type of show to direct, really," she said. "I love theater that happens not in a theater and uses the potential of all these other spaces that we've got. It's just so exciting for an audience to come to a place and not know where the theater's going to happen. You don't know where it's going to be. I think the audience gets an excitement from that, and we as theater-makers find it exciting as well. People come and they don't know what to expect, and that's really useful because it means they're really open to whatever happens."
For those who are interested in the play but haven't been to interactive theater before, don't be afraid; your comfort level has been taken into consideration.
"People can be a little bit nervous sometimes because they don't know what's going to happen, but we were aware of that, and we create an atmosphere that puts people at ease," said Wilson. "It's a different relationship with our audience, especially if it's a bar that people know or have been to. There's a sense of, 'This is our place that people are doing their story in.' It's a really nice relationship already before you start."
There will also be an element that all audience members can relate to - the universal feeling of community.
"Everywhere has its folk stories," Wilson said. "There's a tradition of folk music and folk stories that is very universal. So even though it's very much a Scottish story, which is, I think, interesting in itself - because it's about love and the supernatural, it's instantly recognizable wherever you would take it."
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"Also the idea of being in a bar (with) music playing, that's pretty universal. People coming together in a really convivial sort of way. It's just really exciting to see how different places (receive it)," she said. "We've done it in quite a few places now. It's always, always different. Wherever you go, there's something that surprises you. In some places, the comedy is something the people absolutely love. In other places, it goes quite dark and dramatic. You really never know when you go to a place what's going to happen. But that's what's enjoyable about it."
Whether Miami identifies more with the humor or the dark drama, Garcia feels strongly that everyone in attendance will have an experience they won't soon forget.
"I think that the special thing about The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is the inventiveness," she said. "When you're working in unusual theater spaces like a bar, you have to come up with innovative ways to tell the story. I think that's something that the National Theatre of Scotland has nailed."
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart at Bar 337, 337 SW. 8th St., Miami. Performances run daily at 7:30 p.m. from Wednesday, Feb. 19, to Sunday, Feb. 23.Tickets cost $30 plus fees via MDC Live Arts.