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Alexandra Petri has spent the last half-dozen years as The Washington Post’s funniest columnist, and she’s been staging original plays in the Capital Fringe Festival for just as long. Her ambitious new show, To Tell My Story: A Hamlet Fanfic, is her first as a producing playwright for The Welders. Several of her prior comedies have been wrung from literary classics, but her latest has a little bit of Dear Evan Hansen in it, too, in its keen understanding of how the internet and social media have given teens more power to assert themselves creatively while also making them more vulnerable to abuse.
Petri will wander into sordid territory if that’s where her curiosity leads her. Never Never, her Fringe show two summers ago, was a dark riff on Peter Pan about pedophiles who form a pact to help one another avoid all contact with children. To Tell My Story is comparatively genteel. It’s about a prolific teen author of fan fiction, Elsie (intense, compact Annie Ottati), who believes that Claude, the creep her mom is about to marry, murdered her father, Dane King. (I’m only giving away the weaker jokes.)
But instead of tricking her stepfather-in-waiting into watching a performance of The Mousetrap, Elsie spins out her theories of the crime through the online adventures of various fictional buddy pairings, all played by the same duo, Shravin Amin and Colin Connor. They’re Holmes and Watson, they’re Kirk and Spock, they’re Captain America and Iron Man. Most amusingly, they’re Abraham Lincoln and his platonic-or-was-he bedmate of four years, Joshua Speed. It’s Elsie’s elite status as one of the web’s few proprietors of Lincoln fan fic that gets her noticed by Horatio (Chloe Mikala), our winsome narrator.
A fertile, febrile imagination like Petri’s could ride that premise home, and if this was another Fringe show, under pressure to keep its run time brief, perhaps she would. (As things stand, the 105-minute To Tell My Story could use an intermission.) But there’s another wrinkle in this tapestry, one involving the sublime Sarah Taurchini as one of Elsie’s schoolmates. I’m reluctant to describe her role in too much detail; even to point out that Taurchini is playing (among other parts) a girl named Ophelia is to tip Petri’s hand. But Taurchini is heartbreakingly credible as a girl in the eye of a social storm, and Ottati is good enough to make you want to see her Hamlet.
At Silver Spring Black Box Theatre to July 30. 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $15-$30. thewelders.org.