Alexandra Petri Discusses Her New Play, “Young Republicans”

The 24-year-old “Washington Post” humor columist tackles theater for the second time at the Capital Fringe Festival.

By: Colleen Shalby

Alexandra Petri, a 2010 Harvard graduate and a DC native, quickly made her mark on the District as the Washington Post’s “ComPost” humor columnist, commenting on the good, the bad, and the ugly in politics and popular culture. This month, Petri’s finely tuned eye for the absurd gets theatrical in her new play, Young Republicans, which premieres at the Capital Fringe Festival.

“The biggest way to be productive is if you’re procrastinating on another more important project,” Petri says. “I forget what I was procrastinating on . . . but I decided I’d write a play instead.”

Young Republicans is Petri’s second Capital Fringe show (the first being last year’s Hook-Ups, which explored a medley of famous assignations throughout history, including Romeo and Juliet and a pair of pandas with intimacy issues). The idea for Young Republicans was born last December when, weeks after the president of the University of Texas’s College Republicans resigned after tweeting inappropriately about President Obama, her successor did the same.

Petri longed to know what conversations inside such an organization must be like, so she came up with the idea for a play about the fictional Hill County College Republicans. Drawing inspiration from her own experiences, one being a debate she participated in while campaigning for student council vice president, Young Republicans pokes fun at the sometimes all-too-serious side of college organizations and politics. “Hopefully it’s a loving portrait, because these dynamics always make people weirder than they are,” Petri says.

In an economy where so many postgraduates find themselves grasping for opportunities, 24-year-old Petri finds herself humbly grateful for her success: “What’s happened with me has been extremely anomalous and fortuitous. I’m flabbergasted constantly.” Her writing, both for print and for the stage, aims to be both funny and eloquent. “I think when you’re doing a column and blogging every day, you get familiar with the sound of your own voice,” she says. “[Sometimes] you think, ‘Well, I’d like to get outside the confines of this and walk around inside another person for a while and see how the scenery is.’ Doing plays gives you the opportunity to do that.”

While she’s an avid reader and America’s Most Wanted viewer (and says her love for Star Wars “goes without saying”), she gets most of the inspiration for her column from topical issues. “They say writing a column is like dropping a rose in the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo,” Petri says. “So you try to find something people want to echo about.” She also takes time out of her schedule for pun-offs, beating out 76 other contestants to earn fourth place for long-form puns at the O. Henry Pun-Off in Austin, Texas, this past May.

Petri, who seems to have already gotten to a major checkpoint in finding her dream job, says she’s more than willing to continue down her current road. “Assuming the apocalypse doesn’t happen, I would really love to have a book out. . . . As long as I’m writing stuff and people are reading it, I’ll be happy,” she says. “Oh, and extremely wealthy and on nodding terms with George Lucas.”

Young Republicans has its last performance this Tuesday, July 24, at the Goethe-Institut Main Stage. Tickets ($17 plus $7 for a Fringe pin) are available through the Capital Fringe Festival’s website.