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They say: “What if the tragic heroines of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear and Othello had brunch? In Tragedy Averted, Ophelia, Juliet, Cordelia and Desdemona air their grievances and maybe even find a way to avert their tragedies.”
Certain Fringe shows can draw an audience by premise alone. And certain shows can draw an audience by playwright alone. Combine those two popularity factors, and you have Tragedy Averted, Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri’s comedy about what happened when four of Shakespeare’s heroines got sent to sleepaway camp together. (Apparently that original idea for them to go to brunch didn’t work out.)
Still, if you scored a ticket, lucky you. I kept getting deferred, hence this late review. But what we have to say is what you can already guess: Tragedy Averted is very, very funny. It is also gratifying ego-trip for all the Bard nerds in Washington, of which, judging by the number of year-round theaters in town that regularly produce Shakespeare, there are legions.
Our story begins one dark and stormy night along the watchtower in Denmark. No wait. That’s Hamlet. Tragedy Averted begins one dark night in a place far from Elsinore, with Ophelia running late for a sleeping bag soiree. Juliet, Cordelia and Desdemona are already huddled up with flashlights and REI travel sacks. Time to play, “Never, Ever, Ever!”
Hands up! Everybody ready? Who’s never, ever, ever kissed a boy? Ophelia puts her hand down. Gasp!
“Oooo!” Squeals Juliet, as played by Stephanie Lebolt with unabashed spirit-fingers enthusiasm. “Was it Haaammm-let?”
It was! Even in the darkened, in-the-round environs of the Shop, we can that see Ophelia (Megan Graves) is blushing. And she spills it: They locked lips after his dad’s funeral!
Petri has a gift for smart situational comedy. But she put some effort into finding a good director (Joan Cummings) and solid actors to say her lines. As was the case last year in Young Republicans, the cast of Tragedy Averted includes some of the best young, non-Equity actors in DC. Graves recently had a supporting role at Forum, and Katie Nigsch-Fairfax—-seen here as the hooch-hiding Cordelia—-ust finished a surprisingly successful run in The Best of Craigslist at Flying V. Rounding out the Normally Doomed Heroines Club is Anna Burke as the sanctimonious Desdemona and Ruthie Rado as camp headmistress Lady M, who is never without hand sanitizer.
A year lapses between that great girl talk opening and the next time the ladies haul their backpacks onstage. Just as so many campers looked forward to mail call, the best scene in Tragedy Averted finds Rado dolling out the postcards. Desdemona has “eight from Othello that just say, ‘The handkerchief!?!’” Ophelia gets bad news via a letter from Gertrude. Juliet has a telegram from Friar Lawrence. Etc.
It’s all very entertaining, but given that the title, we know this play can’t end with a spectacularly bloody game of Capture the Flag. If this were Shakespeare 101, a prof might lump Tragedy Averted in with Winter’s Tale and the other problem plays due to logical fallacies and lack of a dramatic arc. The show ends with an unfortunate incident where the sound guy comes down to say a few lines, and an attempt to tie things up as neatly as All’s Well That Ends Well. If that seems like a cop-out, well, Shakespeare’s the one who kept falling back on faked funerals, separated twins and a good old-fashioned case of mistaken identity.