Grove and the others are deep into this endeavor at the Bier Baron Tavern on 22nd Street NW, where their interactive play, “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” is revealing to Washingtonians a charmingly unlikely place for stage curtains to rise. The National Theatre of Scotland production, hosted by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, transports audiences to a cozy bar in the Scottish Borders, where through songs and rhyming couplets, the actors tell the mystical story of a prim academic in love with the past, by the name of Prudencia Hart.
The actress, a mere three years out of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, plays the title character, our touchstone for a strange supernatural romance that takes us to hell and back. She and four colleagues perform all of the roles and play all of the music in the 21
2 -hour production. The show, on its first American tour, has visited big cities and smaller college towns, showing surprised patrons that a play can even be performed right there on the tabletop where they’ve parked their beers. The tour wraps up Sunday before the actors head back to the United Kingdom.
“I’ve had a few who aren’t comfortable,” Grove said the other day, recounting her experiences with “Prudencia” audiences as she sat in another pub, Irish Whiskey Public House, on 19th Street NW. “But people tend to be okay with the rules. Some even shout out and stuff — we encourage that rowdy Scottish spirit.”
“Prudencia Hart” is the brainchild of playwright David Greig and director Wils Wilson, whose notion was the creation of a thoroughly portable piece of theater, one that could rapidly pick up and go, relying on site-specific venues to supply the atmosphere for their darkly funny tall tale.
“We were thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a show which you could take to any village hall or pub?’ ” Wilson said by phone from Yorkshire, England. “That’s part of the reason that we wanted to keep it very light on its feet. It goes around in a few suitcases.”
It started as a touring production in Scotland and then last summer made a major splash — as many innovative performance pieces do — at the Edinburgh Fringe, where it was seen by representatives of some American theater companies, including Shakespeare’s managing director, Chris Jennings. He’d already forged a relationship with officials of Scotland’s national theater through the booking of its celebrated and widely traveled production of “Black Watch.”
Still, Wilson says, she and Greig wondered whether a play redolent of such specific Scottish traditions and terminology would make immediate sense here. “We relied on their judgment, on whether their audiences would really get it,” she said. “When you take something like this to a new place, it’s full of unknowns.”