“It is a truth universally acknowledged” that a single literary character in possession of some hefty fictional baggage must be in want of a spouse.
At least, that’s the premise behind the Capital Fringe Festival’s “Miss Emma’s Matchmaking Agency for Literary Characters,” a delightfully Austenian comedy in which the title character attempts to arrange dates between fiction’s most tragic figures. Captain Ahab gets coached on how to conduct a dinner date (don’t mention whales or vengeance). Philip Marlowe insists on narrating an entire encounter with Nancy Drew (who can’t help but add “girl detective” when she introduces herself). Other clients include Medea, Dorian Gray, Daisy Buchanan and Dr. Jekyll — or, as Emma’s assistant, Don Juan, puts it, “people who shouldn’t date being introduced to other people shouldn’t date.”
The two matchmakers, played by Lilian Oben and Ahmed Helmy, spend most of the show bickering: Emma, armed with her “superior wit and passable track record,” believes she can improve lives through the power of true love, while the womanizing Don (who has been court ordered to help her) is interested in . . . other things.
The plot is fairly predictable for a romantic comedy — if you can’t already figure out which unexpected match emerges by the play’s end, I’m not going to tell you. But the dialogue alone makes the show worth watching. Playwright Alexandra Petri (also a reporter for The Washington Post) has a knack for the kind of quotable quips that would make Jane Austen proud, and Oben delivers them perfectly.
“Miss Emma’s” is, at its heart, theatrical fan fiction, a show for any book-lover who has ever spent time contemplating whether J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield and Syliva Plath’s Esther Greenwood would make a good couple. So if, like Emma, you enjoy an evening curled up with a pint of ice cream and “an improving book,” head to the Atlas Performing Arts Center instead — “Miss Emma’s” is just as literary, and just as sweetly satisfying.
By Alexandra Petri. Presented by the Ad Hoc Players. At 2:45 p.m. Saturday, 8:15 p.m. July 24 and 6:45 p.m. July 26 at the Lang Theater of the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $17 plus the one-time purchase of a $7 button. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.capitalfringe.org. About 70 minutes.