BWW Reviews: POTTED POTTER a Stand-Up Gem

By: Sep. 09, 2013
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What do you get when you mix an iconic book and film series featuring a magical boy-hero with two shamelessly goofy stand-up comedians, a well-heeled crowd and a host of antsy kids? You get roughly an hour and a half of mayhem featuring silly string, super-soakers, beach balls and cheap stuffed animals (some with removable heads-ouch). What on earth this has to do with J. K. Rowling's famous franchise is anyone's guess, but it's as good an excuse as any to get silly.

And boy, does this town ever need a huge dose of silly.

This show is for everyone, but Harry Potter fans especially will be delighted by "Potted Potter," the low-budget send-up offered here by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner at Sidney Harmon Hall. The good news is that you can poke fun at the books for their predictable plot lines and cast of hundreds, and take down the movies for their bloated special-effects budgets, without losing your love for the whole thing. It's a rare opportunity to abandon the grandeur and seriousness of purpose that usually occupies the minds of Shakespeare Theatre's patrons and indulge in utterly inane, childish behavior. Who could ask for more?

The conceit behind the show, condensing or "potting" all seven volumes of the Harry Potter series into roughly 70 minutes, is of course hopeless. And when you have a two-man operation and one of the partners tends to slack off on his duties, producing special effects for what looks like $5 and constantly confusing Potter with other multi-volume works of fantasy literature (read: Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings), the results are inevitably chaotic.

Clarkson and Turner have adopted the standard comic-team personae of straight man and wacko (think: Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Shrek and Donkey), witH Clarkson earnestly poring over the Potter books on-stage prior to curtain while Turner glad-hands the audience and whips up TV-studio style applause when he clearly should be studying his lines. Clarkson's sincere desire to give his audience an A-list Broadway cast and stunning special effects-cue the flying dragon from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"!-ends in ruin, and half the fun is guessing how Turner can possibly dig himself in any deeper than he already is, with his inability to remember a single word of the thing.

As becomes clear early on, "Potted Potter" had its origins in improvised street theatre; it was meant to entertain crowds standing in line for tickets, 5 minutes a shot, and has grown from its original sneeze-and-you-miss it early days into the huge hit it is today. The duo's experience working with kids at the Children's BBC has also ensured that they take a special interest in the younger ones, while still throwing the elders a gag or two.

One of the more endearing routines involves a game of Quidditch which, true to the duo's production values, doesn't feature anything even vaguely resembling the original equipment. A few cheap switch-brooms do make a brief cameo, but they are promptly ditched as Clarkson and Turner snatch child-volunteers from the audience and everyone participates in a rousing match of - what? Beach-ball volleyball? Concert-goer aerobics? I'm not quite sure, but the appearance of Clarkson late in the match looking nothing like the Golden Snitch (a magical, golf-ball-sized winged thing that, when caught, wins the game) will leave you in stitches.

Given the free-wheeling nature of the enterprise a few of Clarkson and Turner's jokes inevitably fall flat; some of them did not weather the journey across the Atlantic, and it appears they may want to find more American-specific cultural references to enhance the show for future runs here. But they have conned the strategy of the Reduced Shakespeare Company well, and for those with a generous theatre-going budget "Potted Potter" is an absolute gem.

Running Time: 70 minutes, give or take an extended gag.

Production Photo: Jeff Turner and Daniel Clarkson in Potted Potter.

Photo by Brian Friedman.

Performances are September 5-15, 2013 at
Sidney Harmon Hall
610 F Street NW, Washington, DC

Tickets can be ordered by calling 202-547-1122, or at: