AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
I missed Potted Potter its first time in NY, so I was grateful of the opportunity to visit the return engagement. Though it’s billed as parody, and though it purports to condense all seven Harry Potter books into its 75 minute running time, it’s a bit different and a bit slyer than that. Currently still performed by its creators, two British comics trained in improvisation, Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner, the show doesn’t parody Harry Potter per se very much—it doesn’t lampoon the characters or plot points—it rather parodies the concept of condensation, by delivering, one after another, absurd, budget-brained shortcuts to represent iconic personalities and an epic storytelling canvas. It also doesn’t truly condense the Harry Potter series in any manner that would require you to actually know that much about it. (I, for example, have seen two of the films, most of which I’ve forgotten, and read none of the books.) So there aren’t a lot of consequential spoilers, beyond the obvious stuff like good and evil, win this round, lose that round; things that would be arrived at in any tale of “wizardic” fantasy. The jokes are about the tropes—how to represent a good but naïve character who grows in sophistication; how to represent a recurring dark villain; how to present a scary, flying, fire-breathing dragon.
It’s very much a family show, with big, broad routines for the youngsters, and clever, quippy asides (both scripted and improvised) for their adult minders, but never (well, almost never) anything that crosses the line into “adult content.” Modstly it’s all quite sweet and silly. Though there’s a neat bit where Daniel takes J. K. Rowling’s latest novel—a decidedly adult novel called The Casual Vacancy—off a shelf and just kind of gapes open-mouthed at its contents; it’s a wordless moment and you have to recognize the book and know its significance for the joke to land.
After being something of a Summer hit in 2008 for the Irish Repertory company, Mark Brown’s cast-of-five adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 8o Days has returned to NYC under completely different aegis (the Yow! Theater Company) and in a completely different production, directed by Rachel Klein.
The first, directed by Micheal Evan Haney (a co-production with the Cincinnati Playhouse), took place in something more of a black box setting, as befit making the postage stamp stage of the Irish Rep amenable to an epic story told on a shoestring budget. The current incarnation has a much more elaborate set with secret, transformative surprises. But thereafter the aesthetic differences are less consequential.
The script encourages a kind of freneticism, if comparing the two stagings is any indication. The difference is only in the degree and placement of the overkill. The Haney production had in its delivery of dialogue, a grating insistence that it was all rather funny. Yet it seemed to settle into a rhythm and earn the audience’s forbearance because they were so tickled by the low-tech inventiveness and versatility of its small cast. Klein’s production features a somewhat hipper verbal delivery (she and her cast don’t always deliver an easy lob, but they aren’t afraid of low key intervals with raised eyebrows instead of raised voices either). Yet for all that, hers seems ironically a little more exhausting. And it may be because the tacit self-awareness that allows for comic ease is so evident that it competes with the broader, micro-choreographed physical business, and as well with the establishment of characterization grounded enough to invest in. Weird, that.
But as with the Haney production, the audience seems delighted to indulge the ride anyway because without being spectacular, it’s still something of a spectacle. It remains an ideal proposition for a Summer entertainment.
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