If there’s one thing we know about the Tragedies of William Shakespeare (regardless of authorship, date, and a heck of a lot of other stuff) it’s that they, well, tend to end on a sour note. And no chord rings more dismally than those of the Bard’s heroines, whose fates run the gamut from Naptime Strangulation to Maritime Misadventure. Alexandra Petri wants to give them another chance at the silver lining—in her play, Tragedy Averted, Petri deposits Shakespeare’s unforgettable heroines—disowned Cordelia, lovelorn Juliet, wronged Desdemona, and flighty Ophelia (plus one obstreperous Scottish Queen)—in a world slightly more familiar: a contemporary Summer Camp, the perfect Wooden O for a tale of growing up and growing together, putting a delicious modern spin on these Early Modern dames.
Keeping up with the times has never been a problem for Petri, whose sense of wordplay and social commentary has been honed to razor sharpness since she began blogging for the Washington Post, serving up sizzling snarks and countless meme-friendly bon mots for her ComPost Blog, earning her a spot in the D.C. media house of lords (and ladies) as the Post’s Resident Comedienne. But her Harvard-Grad, Congressman’s-Daughter background has always been pinched by pentameter—she’s been in the Shakespeare fold since pre-teen years, and how: “When I was in second grade,” she recalled, “I tried and failed to get my class to put on a production of Macbeth, but the girl I’d cast as Lady Macbeth pulled out because she was uncomfortable being addressed by Macbeth (me, of course) as ‘dearest chuck.’”
And how exactly did Petri’s Muse of Camp/fire ascend the brightest keyboard ofinvention? “I had known I wanted it to be a comedy, but at first I thought it was going to be all about brunch. But their youth was such an important part of all the characters that I decided to switch it to a setting where it would make sense for them to be together.”
Under the direction of Joan Cummins, making her Fringe debut, Petri’s comic extraction is Bard Meets Breakfast Club for sure, a farce de femme that interchanges anachronism with a hefty dose of crafty Shakespeare in-jokes—but of course there’s always something bubble-bubbling under the surface. “I think the play is important because it gives these women, who we all know (or have heard of) a chance to take action in their own stories,’ Cummins says. “It gives these women who are almost completely alone in their stories the chance to get another shot at their problems, this time with friends on their side. Friends and equals. How could you expect anyone to healthily get through a major crisis in their life without the help of friends?”
But, of course, Tragedy Averted is a festival of fun and a treat for all comers, rewarding die-hard Bardolaters and canon neophytes alike. Petri gives the audience as many bright options as she gives her liberated protagonists. “I want an audience to walk away thinking either, ‘Hey, Shakespeare wrote some great ladies, and I’d always hoped somebody would bust them out before it was too late!’ or ‘Hey, that was a cool play, and I didn’t even notice it was only gals until you brought it up just now!’ or ‘I just laughed a lot! I have no idea what that play was about!’ ”
“Also, it’s a comedy!” And the rest is silence.
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