What’s it like to be in hell? So colossally boring that you’ll even seduce the Devil to get the hell out.
That’s what happens in the National Theatre of Scotland’s merry and quite mad production of “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.” It is now running in the charming little cabaret-style theater on the sixth floor of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, where the view of the skyline and Ferris wheel beats the vista from the main stage lobby hands down.
Five cast members, Melody Grove, Annie Grace, Andy Clark, David McKay and Alasdair Macrae, dart between and atop the tables, simultaneously startling and delighting patrons. Or they perch at the edges, speaking in sequence and often in rhyme about the travails of Prudencia Hart one night in a blinding blizzard.
Melody Grove is Prudencia, an academic researching Scottish Border ballads on the Anglo-Socttish frontier, where many a bloody battle took place. She enters a pub seeking a folk festival, which evolves into a party or “ceilidh” (kay-lee).
The atmosphere veers uncomfortably into the supernatural, so despite a dense snowfall, suggested by little cut-up pieces of white paper thrown by the actors upon one another, she ventures out into the night. There she meets a quiet man who invites her to the warmth and safety of his bed and breakfast. She notices that as he walks, his feet leave no prints on the snow, but despite misgivings, she follows him and winds up in hell.
At first it seems like heaven, full of books, including rare, ancient volumes on — no surprise — Scottish Border ballads. But as infinity wears on, well, you can imagine.
Grove is lovely looking and a convincing actress. She easily handles her character’s transformation from prim professor to determined seductress. And her little speech on the power of poetry is heart-rending.
She is ably supported by the pub crew: Clark, who plays a wild lad with manic energy, Grace, who sparkles as the sensuous party girl, McKay, who eerily doubles as the Devil, and Macrae, who not only sings and plays the fiddle, but is the composer of the music which suffuses the production.
Their hell is deceptively simple — a dull place with no end in sight. But the Scottish team gives the Devil his due, with plenty of laughter and song. You will too, if you see this lively production.
Don’t worry about the Scottish burr. These actors want to be understood, and ye’ll miss nary a word.
Motorists beware. Between Hollywood and North Avenue, the southbound Outer Drive often goes down to two lanes. Construction crews work well into the night, so find another route if you can. Your reward? Have your parking ticket stamped and save 40 percent.
“Prudencia” runs at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 Grand Ave., Navy Pier, through Oct. 28. For information, call 312-595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com.