The set-up: Under full disclosure I freely admit it: I'm a sucker for these zip-drive, silly British vaudevilles that take a beloved subject and kick it around unmercifully, like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) or the Complete History of America (Abridged), both from the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
In Potted Potter, the brainchild of actors Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, who have also given us Potted Pirates and Potted Panto, the authors (and original performers of this wildly inventive schtick that premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before it took off around the world like one of those powered-up quidditch broomsticks ) put our beloved child wizard and all his attendant kiddie pals, warlocks, dementors, and "he who shall not be named" through the wringer. It's a comic speed wash.
The execution: Now on its spirited American tour, presented here by The Brilliant Lectures Series, Inc., Potted Potter is currently performed by James Percy and Delme Thomas, giving the original creators a needed break, for this two-actor piece is non-stop physicality and gives them quite a workout. They are breathless by the end, but so are we, from laughing.
We know right from the beginning we're in for a treat, for here comes pepped-up Del through the audience shaking hands and chatting with just about everyone and getting us in the irreverent mood. Meanwhile James sits on stage thumbing through one of those seven gigantic tomes from J.K. Rowling. Next to him is a brightly painted large toy train that looks suspiciously like Thomas the Tank Engine. That's not the Hogwart's Express, we cry out in recognition. This journey's going to be fun.
James is the serious one, sort of, the nerdy lover of all things Potter. He wants this show to be big and expensive, full of theatrical effects that do justice to Rowling's fabulous vision. No CGI for this show, he boasts. He will play Harry. Del is the twit. He's never even read Harry Potter, he mouths silently to us. He's the silly one who gets to play all the other characters, using stuffed animals, funny hats, bad wigs, and an overflowing arsenal of actor's gimmicks and tics to plop us into the goofiness.
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It you think two warthogs on a skateboard, which are Del's idea of Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is funny beyond belief - and I do - then this gloriously irreverent show will have you in stitches. If you find such shenanighans as an audience participation game of quidditch that uses a beachball batted around the orchestra section and two little audience members as Seekers who are supposed to chase James dressed as the Snitch (the kids didn't do anything opening night, which added to the merriment; which gave Del the snarky opportunity of a lifetime to make the most out of the impromptu moment) - then perhaps this show is not for you. If you even have to ask what Quidditch is, then for sure you won't get this show, and you should firmly stay in your comfy Muggle world.
For those who revel in Pottermania, though, this show is a godsend. By show's end, after James has been smeared with silly string; and Del sings "I Will Survive" with a pair of devil horns on his head as "he who shall not be named" - OK, it's "Valdemort"; and pop references have been kicked about to Narnia, Miley Cyrus, Mary Poppins; after card tricks with the audience; after Del eats chocolate cake off the floor; after a vacuum cleaner makes an appearance as Harry's Nimbus 2000; after...well, you get the idea. Anything for a laugh. And James and Del get plenty of them.
The verdict: Theater magic of the decidedly lower form is still theater magic. Two guys on the stage acting stupid can be high art indeed. Grab your broomstick and fly to the Wortham, just follow the laughter.
Harry Potter's goofy deconstruction sails only through December 1 at the Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. Purchase tickets online at www.brilliantlectures.org or call 832-487-7041. $39.99-$99.99.