Watching “Potted Potter” at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall is a bit like opening the yard-long scroll that serves as the show’s program: ridiculous, excessive and tangentially related to “Harry Potter.”
Billed as “all seven ‘Harry Potter’ books in 70 minutes,” “Potted Potter” is surprisingly rife with non-Harry Potter references to as diverse pop culture moments as the Netflix television series “Stranger Things,” President Donald Trump and Georgetown Cupcakes. While the performance shines with its impromptu pop culture and “Harry Potter”-inspired improv performance, the show falls flat as soon as the actors stick to their scripts or try to engage the audience like teachers at a mandatory middle school assembly.
The set opens with two dozen gray-draped furniture pieces cluttering a dusty stage, with Scott, played by Scott Hoatson, attentively reading one of J.K. Rowling’s books, while Dan, played by Daniel Clarkson, greets every person in the front five rows with an overly eager handshake or fist bump. Wild colored lights trap the audience in a cross between a rave and a self-help conference, as the two characters immediately break the fourth wall and enthusiastically introduce themselves.
The characters play at extremes: Scott is obsessed with the “Harry Potter” series, while Dan provides most of the humor with his total lack of Potter knowledge. For example, early in the show, Dan creates a replica of the wizarding school Hogwarts consisting of two warthogs on a skateboard. To give the show some semblance of a narrative, Scott tries to give Dan a comically abbreviated summary of each book. Thankfully, “Potted” regularly eschews this format, whether with a 10-minute game of Quidditch in which two child participants act as seekers and tackle Scott as the snitch, or a hilariously out-of-place corporate presentation on “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” given by a suddenly “Potter”-omniscient Dan.
The scripted jokes are largely predictable and overused, such as the half dozen times that Scott prepares the audience for a “War Horse level” prop, and then Dan disappoints with a puppet or children’s toy, explaining that he spent all the money on the dragon prop from the fourth book — which also ends up being a plush children’s puppet.
When the two actors shed the script, and their personas, the performance is delightful. At one point in a game-show style bit, when Scott quizzes Dan on the Dark Lord’s name, Dan answers “Donald Trump” instead of Voldemort, to which Scott quips, “That’s not fair to Voldemort — at least he respects women.” Later, Dan shoves a Georgetown cupcake in his mouth while the lights are out but accidentally gets more than a few crumbs in his eyes, making the show pause while he comically cleans his face, eliciting wild laughter from both the audience and the actors.
For those who find theater a daunting or overly pretentious place filled with stuffy actors, “Potted Potter” will provide a pleasant and mostly fun experience. But for more intense fans of comedy and theater, money will likely be better spent on National Shakespeare Theatre’s next production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”