Duo’s Harry Potter parody more slapstick than satire
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org November 18, 2012 11:46PM
Jefferson Turner (left) plays Harry Potter and Daniel Clarkson stars as everyone else in "Potted Potter."
‘POTTED POTTER: THE UNAUTHORIZED HARRY EXPERIENCE’
When: To Jan. 6
Where: Broadway Playhouse, 175 East Chestnut (starting Dec. 26, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph)
Info: (800) 775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Updated: December 21, 2012 6:09AM
J.K. Rowling, the magician behind Harry Potter, recently published her first “adult” novel. And E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which makes spanking an adult sport, has given Rowling a run for her money on bestseller lists lately.
So is that bespectacled wizard by the name of Harry Potter past his boyish prime? Judging by the audience filled with “children of all ages” that flocked to the Broadway Playhouse for Saturday’s Chicago debut of “Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience — A Parody by Dan and Jeff,” the answer might be “No. Harry’s still hot.” Yet Potter fans had better be prepared to bring a whole lot of substance from the seven books (and/or the eight movies) based on Rowling’s work. For there is precious little beyond the broadest of slapstick comedy — complete with Silly String, fake chocolate goop, stuffed animals, silly hats and some audience participation — to be found in this 70-minute show.
To be sure, writer-performers Jefferson Turner (who plays Potter and who, in one of the show’s cheekier moments, is aptly dubbed “a boring character”) and his partner-in-antics, Daniel Clarkson (the taller, more manic of the two men, who plays pretty much everyone else), are smart, goofy, easily likable fellows with immense energy. And they bring just the right mix of irony, self-mockery, audience insult and playhouse fun to their material, which has far more to do with zany slapstick than with any substantive or clever commentary on the Potter storylines.
But as I watched these two veteran BBC children’s television hosts working their way through “Potted Potter,” I couldn’t help thinking: This show (directed by Richard Hurst) is the sort of thing some Hollywood mogul might finance as the entertainment for his overly indulged grade school kid’s birthday party. And it is far cry from a soaring live theater experience, even if it beats a creepy clown.
The actors, dressed in jeans and black T-shirts, work with just a handful of stage pieces — a large toy train (like the one Harry boards to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry), a “spooky” coffin, and a wardrobe that suggests Rowling was influenced by C.S. Lewis’ earlier series, “The Narnia Chronicles.”
When a broom is required, Dan produces a vacuum cleaner (that is funny). As the sinister Voldemort, he sports little devil’s horns and a padded jacket. As Hermione he makes the briefest of appearances in a boater hat and braids. Dumbledore, the greatest of wizards, wears a sparkly conical hat that might have been borrowed from “Wicked’s” Elphaba. (“If he’s such a great wizard, why did he become a teacher?,” asks one of the men, in what is certainly the show’s edgiest quip.) A stuffed serpent and dragon hand puppet substitute for what Dan clearly promised Jeff would be high-budget creatures of terror.
A game of quidditch involves neatly divided halves of the audience batting around a beach ball (with one zealous young theatergoer leaping out of his seat to keep it in play). When the Golden Snitch arrives onstage, two young audience volunteers are asked to tackle it (and at the performance I saw one boy did so with such stadiumlike verve it prompted Dan to exclaim: “I guess that’s Chicago style”).
The show’s running conceit is that Dan, who has yet to read the seventh Potter book, must get through it by show’s end. Of course we all know Harry will survive (cue for that Gloria Gaynor disco anthem). But the really subversive message here might well be posed as a question: Haven’t you just had quite enough of the bespectacled one by now?
NOTE: Announced late Monday, “Potted Potter” will be extended through Jan. 6, 2013, moving to the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (205 E. Randolph) effective Dec. 26. Tickets for the Harris dates will go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday.