Adapting Shakespeare to a modern context is always a dicey proposition – witness the NY Public Theater’s ongoing “Julius Trump” firestorm. But Welders playwright and Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri has no such issues. Petri has channeled her gift for social satire into a frenetic, funny, and relatable vision of Hamlet for the internet age. The confusing landscape of high school, wracked with disorienting forces of social media, bullying, and teenage angst, forms a compelling psychic battleground for the Bard’s doomed Dane.
First: a quick backgrounder. “Fan fiction” commonly refers to fan-created internet stories tied to established pop culture phenomena – arguably dating all the way back to Star Trek fan magazines in the 1970’s and 80’s. More broadly, fan fiction can be considered “taking someone else’s story and adding your own twist”. Think of the four Gospels, or campfire stories. It’s a bit of a stretch, but one could contend that Shakespeare produced a sort of “fanfic” in the form of Julius Caesar, Henry V, and other dramatic retellings of widely-known histories.
This social, home-brew storytelling tradition forms the foundation of Petri’s play. The show opens, appropriately enough, with an address from faithful narrator Horatio (the affable, bubbly Chloe Mikala). She quickly makes clear that this isn’t your Dad’s Hamlet. Rather than dwelling on ghosts and royal intrigue, Horatio launches into a mini-history of fan fiction, told through a madcap carousel of fan-imagined scenes from stories as diverse as Harry Potter, Twilight, Sherlock Holmes, and Marvel’s Avengers films. Talented Welders ensemble members Shravan Amin, Colin Connor, and Sarah Taurchini have a blast acting out Horatio’s deepest fantasies. It’s like your nerdiest friends decided to put on a caffeine-fueled, literary sketch comedy show (much funnier than it sounds, I promise).
Horatio soon introduces Elsie (a clever reference to Hamlet’s Elsinore Castle), our main protagonist and angsty Hamlet analogue. Evoking the characters’ friendship in Shakespeare’s original, Horatio and Elsie/Hamlet quickly bond through the medium of online fanfic message boards. As Elsie, the puckish Annie Ottati seamlessly adapts Hamlet’s morose, paranoid outlook into that of a frustrated teen struggling to find meaning in today’s plugged-in society. Mikala and Ottati’s snappy rapport and inch-perfect comic timing help Petri’s script hum along, guided by the confident direction of Megan Behm.
to tell my story: a hamlet fanfic
closes July 30, 2017
Details and tickets
Elsie’s tragic tale unfolds through recurrent fanfic scenes representing her shifting moods and daily trials, accompanied by impactful visuals (sound & projections designer Veronica J. Lancaster.) There are several disorienting layers here that occasionally muddle up the plot: Horatio narrates secondhand her internet collaborator’s moods and actions, mediated through teenage exaggeration and fictional characters borrowed from published works. This game of theatrical “telephone” between actors and audience invokes the truth-distorting power of the internet while channeling Hamlet’s disillusionment and paranoia as he stalks the halls of Elsinore Castle. The whole experience is simultaneously funny, alarming, and mind-bending.
Petri hasn’t just remounted Hamlet for a modern audience. She’s used Shakespeare’s text as the scaffolding for an ambitious look at isolation, friendship, self-expression, and the search for meaning in our balkanized, digitally-distracted society. Petri’s uncommon humor and grace and the Welders’ kinetic style combine for a timely, must-see production.
to tell my story: a hamlet fanfic by Alexandra Petri . Directed by Megan Behm . Produced by The Welders Playwrights Collective . Starring: Shravan Amin . Colin Connor . Chloe Mikala . Annie Ottati . Sarah Taurchini . Production Manager: Rich Ching . Stage Manager: Mary Cat Gill . Assistant Stage Manager: Allie Heiman . Sound & Projection Designer: Veronica J. Lancaster . Technical Director: Dean Leong . Costume Designer: Danielle Preston . Lighting Designer: E-hui Woo . Lauren Chilton: Props Designer/Scenic Coordinator . Produced by The Welders . Reviewed by Ben Demers.