Though there’s nary a kilt in sight, we have two Scottish companies in town: The National Theatre of Scotland at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage and Glasgow’s Visible Fictions at The Wallis in Beverly Hills.
In “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” The Edye Second Space has been converted into a pub, the original setting of this most unusual, engaging and entertaining production, which debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011.
Complete with tables and chairs and a very long bar at which you’ll taste a wee dram of Scotland’s main export, single-malt scotch whiskey, the party’s already started. Music on traditional instruments, including a table harmonium, is underway, performed by the actors themselves.
The audience is busy tearing up napkins to be tossed as snowflakes, representing an epic snowstorm that sets the scene for this fictional evening.
It’s an evening that feels like an eternity, but don’t misread my meaning; the wonderful paradox will be revealed.
Prudencia Hart (Melody Grove) takes folk ballads so seriously that her life and career are devoted to them. She’s been invited to a conference to debate some experts who are far rowdier than the buttoned-up Pru and who clearly don’t regard their academic subject in the same respectful light. These contemporary scholars don’t understand the simple beauty of the border ballads, interpreting them through the lens of modern life, leaving Pru the lone defender of the purity of the originals.
As the conference unwinds, the participants gather in a pub for a karaoke folk night. Overwhelmed by the debauchery, Prudencia stumbles into the snowstorm, on the very night that the Devil makes a rare mid-winter appearance. Pru is taken, act one is over. Back to the bar!
What happens next is the transformation of Prudencia as we have known her and, spoiler alert, the outwitting of the Devil and Pru’s release to emotional freedom.
Did I mention that the production is mostly conducted in rhymed couplets? (You’ll hardly notice except to be impressed!) This is an all-encompassing, deeply engaging, strong ensemble production that is as intelligent as it is amusing.
A tiny troupe of highly committed performers, The National Theatre of Scotland doesn’t have a stage of its own to call home; instead they bring home with them wherever they go.
“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” runs through Feb. 8 at The Edye Second Space; find out more at www.thebroadstage.com or call (310) 434-3200.
On the Main Stage
On the Broad’s Main Stage Denis O’Hare, in a trench coat and hat, is a noir-ish modern-day Greek poet Homer, reciting “An Iliad,” an adaptation of his epic poem about the warriors Hector and Achilles, who led the battle between Troy and Greece over the indiscretions of Paris and Helen, she whose face launched a thousand ships. This ancient poem at once glorifies the warriors while condemning the human waste of war.
The subject matter is dense and the subject is mythic. O’Hare, with the aid of an astonishingly expressive cellist and a bare-bones stage devoid of distractions, has worked with director Lisa Peterson to keep us on track as he brings a complex cast of characters to life, based on Robert Fagles’ contemporary translation.
While your concentration is required, your patience and understanding are rewarded at the end. It’s a one-man walk through the eternal themes that ancient poetry can help elucidate, even in our own time.
More info on “An Iliad” is at www.thebroadstage.com.
More Greek myths, Scotsmen
Another Scottish company has taken over the Lovelace Studio Theatre, the second space at the new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
The Visible Fictions company, consisting here of two exquisitely versatile actors, Tim Settle and Neil Thomas, has created a fun “Jason and The Argonauts,” the tale of a hero’s mythic journey to the ends of the earth in search of the Golden Fleece that will restore him to his rightful throne.
Despite a complex plot, this is children’s theatre. Two actors interchangeably embody 50 sailors, two kings, a stepfather, a princess, a sea monster and even a pair of killer seacliffs, with just their versatile voices and bodies, some very basic props, a couple of action toys, a large trunk, and a Rube Goldberg-like wagon that also serves as a boat and an action platform. There’s a whole lot of slapstick humor going on, too.
In a word, this isn’t just for kids; grown-ups will have a hard time wrenching their eyes from the stage and stifling their laughter during the silly stuff as we ride the story to its end. It’s well worth 65 minutes of your time, and your family’s, too.
“Jason and the Argonauts” runs through Feb. 2. Visit www.thewallis.org or call (310) 746-4000 for more info.
The next New West Symphony Masterpiece Series concert takes place this Sunday at 4 p.m. at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall. Concertmaster Danielle Belen is the featured soloist for an all-French program that includes Ravel’s “Bolero” and the music of Camille Saint-Saëns and Paul Dukas. Get tickets at the box office, pre-order online at newwestsymphony.org or call (866) 776-8400.
And local treasure, Jacaranda, Music at the Edge, continues its series “Hallucination: Mary Meets Karl-Heinz” honoring Mary Bauermeister as artist, muse and widow of avant-garde composer Karl-Heinz Stockhausen. She helped catalyze the Fluxus movement, along with Yoko Ono and Nam June Paik.
On Saturday, hear the landmark acoustic, electronic and amplified music of Stockhausen and composer Iannis Xenakis at Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church.
On Sunday it’s an 80th birthday tribute at the Goethe Institute, with Bauermeister reading from her memoir and improvising with singer Nicholas Isherwood on her handmade instruments as they discuss creation of Stockhausen’s 1968 masterwork, “Stimmung” during her pregnancy.
For details see www.jacarandamusic.org or call (213) 483-0216.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.