Potted Potter flies into DC weaving a comic spell
Potted Potter, the unauthorized Harry Potter parody experience, succeeds in combining a love for J.K. Rowling’s magical universe, and improvisational comedy, thanks to two captivating performers.
Just as the insanely popular books, along with the film adaptations, appeal to all ages, Potted Potter is delightfully accessible to audiences of any age. Parents and grandparents have nothing to fear if they want to bring a whole mini-van full of wee ones dressed as Gryffindors or Hufflepuffs. I also saw plenty of adult couples, sans mini-wizard-wannabes, taking their seats who were buzzing with anticipation.
Voracious fans of the books and Potter film fanatics should be satisfied on all counts, especially if they don’t mind their beloved boy wizard and his world getting a “Mad Magazine”-style, skewering that is all in good fun. Co-writers and performers Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner have done with seven Harry Potter books (and eight films) what the originators of the Reduced Shakespeare Company have done to Shakespeare, world history, Christmas, sports and the Bible.
Although not a requirement, enjoyment of this show is enhanced by some familiarity with the world of muggles and wizards. The good news is the onstage duo of Clarkson and Turner are such likable and masterful comedians, there is plenty to laugh at even for the non-Potter maniacs.
All good stages pieces include a central conflict and here it is not between Harry and his arch-nemesis Lord Voldemort but between the members of this classic comic team, Turner, the straight man and Clarkson, the stooge. Turner is the studious Harry Potter scholar and expert; a serious, yet game performer on all levels. By contrast, tall and gangly Clarkson is impulsive, mischievous, and displays a penchant for making brash decisions that aren’t very bright.
With the contrasting personalities and styles established, these improvisational wizards dive into each of Rowling’s seven books distilling plot-points down to the essentials, sometimes pointing out absurdities, such as Harry’s dumb luck at being saved at the last minute throughout the series. When it comes to Harry’s famous scar, Dan simply scribbles “Harry Potter” across Jeff’s forehead. Pivotal creatures – a house elf, a basilisk and a terrifying dragon – are given the Avenue Q-puppet treatment. Cheesy props and absurd wigs are gone as fast as they can whip them out.
The brilliance of Turner and Clarkson’s comic timing makes it difficult to tell what is scripted and what is off-the-cuff. Having worked together on this and improv-based parodies since 2005, it is clear their love of the material and humorous ying and yang have been seasoned and perfected.
Clarkson and Turner really shine when they turn to the audience and fully engage the crowd. The central set-piece of the show is an impromptu game of Quidditch, the epic wizard game of rugby-soccer played on brooms that figures prominently in the books and films. (For the uninformed, I’ve Googled Quidditch for you. Or ask any 4th grader.)
Closes September 15, 2013
Sidney Harman Hall
610 F Street NW
1 hour, 15 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $45 – $95
Tuesday thru Sunday
As Turner exited the stage to prepare for his all-important role in the game, Clarkson surveyed the audience for willing volunteers as hands shot up as straight as magic wands. Olivia O’Donnell and Marjan Stuckart, two fourth graders at Washington’s National Presbyterian School, were more than eager to jump in as Seekers. The girls played along with all the instructions, and their nervously stoic reactions to Clarkson were priceless.
The rest of the crowd was pulled into the game, as well, batting the Quaffle (i.e. oversized, inflatable globe) back and forth to the cheers of the balcony, and Olivia and Marjan watched patiently, awaiting their pivotal role in the contest.
The match came to a rousing climax when Turner made his grand entrance as the valuable Golden Snitch, dressed head to toe in an outfit that made him look like a bright yellow Oompa-loompa. “You look like Bob the Builder on a night out on DuPont Circle,” Clarkson quipped about Turner’s unfortunate appearance, as the audience roared with laughter.
Since the object of Quidditch is for one team to catch the golden object, the volunteer Seekers gave furious chase to the Snitch, until Marjan, representing the house of Slytherin, took down Turner in a glorious full-body tackle. Once the laughter died down, Clarkson declared reliving that moment in his mind would be his happy place for a very long time.
The beauty of the game of Quidditch is that each performance, the experience will be new and offers the Turner and Clarkson the opportunity to bond with a new audience and revel in the moment. Here’s hoping you get a pair as valiant as Olivia and Marjan.
With a fast moving running time of 75 minutes, Turner and Clarkson accomplish their mission of hitting the highlights from Harry Potter’s exploits and keeping the audience in stitches.
Any show that can bring families together to share live theatre is magical in my book.
Touring production of Potted Potter . written and performed by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner . Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker.