For starters, an actual pub might help.
“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” a tale of love, songs, love songs and devils, has been crafted as a fantastical yarn to be spun at a fireside on a bitter winter evening. That witnesses to the Broad Stage engagement must step out of 70 degree beach weather into a playhouse transformed into a bar is sort of immaterial. You’re at tables in the smaller, and transformed Edye Theatre (via Georgia McGuinness’s design) with musicians/performers who instruct you to shred napkins into snowflakes and will likely pay a fourth wall-breaking visit at least once over the course of the evening. Ales on tap or no ales on tap (and, yes, drinks are available), with this hybridized bit of Scottish fancy, you either buy in or you don’t.
The experience may be taking place now, present day but co-creators David Grieg (playwright), Wils Wilson (director), and the five person ensemble are most decidedly evoking another era as well as another place. In Kelso, where she has ventured to lecture on her specialty, border ballads, an uptight spinsterish academic named Prudencia Hart takes a wrong turns out of a pub across a frozen field and ends up in a most unusual B & B with a most unconventional innkeeper. Her ever so slightly bad boy colleague Colin may just be able to save her as long as we accept that a person in Prudencia’s situation needs saving.
Performed almost entirely in unobtrusive rhyming verse (the kind of couplets that should not irk an audience but that could shame the Devil), “Prudencia Hart” is part play, part poetry slam, part pub rave. Composer and music director Aslasdair Macrae (who is also part of the cast) has us by the throat and paying attention when everyone is working on a traditional ballad. Somewhat less engaging are the satiric karaoke sessions, sing alongs and other contemporary business, although Grieg clearly believes that there’s space for this as well.
The shift in tone between pub bacchanalia and the fable-esque section of Prudencia’s centuries-long sojourn in the underworld can occasionally be jarring. One is raucous; the other, melancholy and poetic with a rather heavy dose of the erotic. It’s also on the late side in an already longish evening when Prudencia encounters her “strange undoing.” Wilson and company attempt to keep us engaged and participating (the thimbulsful of whiskey and dinks for sale must surely help in this regard), but “Prudencia Hart” often feels like two plays, or one play and a party. Plaudits certainly go to Macrae, Paul McCole, David McKay, Melody Grove and Annie Grace (in the title role) for holding together an evening that is strange indeed.
"The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart" continues 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 2 np.m. Sat.-Sun.; through Feb. 8 at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. $50-$70. (310) 434-3200, www.thebroadstage.com.