Story: Well, there’s this young wizard named Harry Potter who has great mystical powers. Harry is an orphan who now lives with his non-magical, “Muggle” relatives, dullards who hope that he will turn out ‘normal.’ Nonetheless, he and his best pals, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, become students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, presided over by Albus Dumbledore.
Hogwarts’ staff includes potions master Severus Snape, who dislikes Harry; deputy headmistress Minerva McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House; and gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid, among many others. Also present is snooty student and Harry’s arch-rival, the bullying Draco Malfoy, and the evil Lord Voldemort, who lusts for immortality, aims to rule everyone and everything within his considerable magical powers and views Harry as a formidable rival. Thus, young Harry has his work cut out for him, such as saving humanity and whatnot.
Highlights: What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys? Why, monkeys which are themselves magical, and smoke a bit, too, as they parody Master Potter, his schoolmates and teachers in most haphazard and frenzied fashion.
Thanks to the inspired lunacy of director Suki Peters and adapter Jaysen Cryer, Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents an inspired send-up of all eight Harry Potter flicks in just one act and 90 fun-filled minutes.
It’s so illusory, in fact, that my auto clock indicated it was more like two hours after I left the theater. Details, details. What counts is that Peters and her overly zealous cast are having the best of times on stage, an infectious good ride that permeated into an ecstatic audience on opening night.
Other Info: Tickets already are precious for the two weekends of performances, which quickly sold out before additional seats were conjured for the spacious Emerson Black Box Theatre at Lindenwood’s luxurious Scheidegger Center.
And why not? Despite a running time that begins to drag perceptibly with the arrival of the take-off on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the eight-movie set that might better be preceded by an intermission, this is one of the best of MSMT’s wacky ventures. Donna Northcott's St. Louis Shakespeare offshoot has made an art form out of lampooning both famous and infamous Hollywood flicks such as The Ten Commandments, It’s a Wonderful Life and Glen or Glenda?
A whirlwind of activity transpires on the ‘Dungeons & Dragons’-style set conceived by Brian Peters (or is it Juan Schwartz?), complete with background brick walls adorned by gargoyles and flanking three velvet curtains through which the intrepid cast makes furious entrances and exits when not utilizing either side of the expansive space.
Jaime Zayas lights everything with exclamation points, Blaine Adams provides a priceless array of amusing props and Katie Donovan works overtime to dress everyone in comfy academic attire familiar to Harry’s legion of fans. Presumably she has something to do with the outlandish wigs as well, or at least someone deserves the credit.
And Jeffrey Roberts’ sound design shamelessly steals chords ranging from Thriller and Let’s Dance to Chess and Law and Order, anything for a cheap laugh, at which the entire ensemble is very, very good even if the jokes occasionally drop with a thud.
This goofy good time is actually reminiscent of Monty Python in its inspired madness and audacity to successfully mock such an enormously popular cultural phenomenon as author J.K. Rowling’s worldwide mega-hits. Besides keeping her charges moving spasmodically across the stage, director Peters makes fabulous and entertaining use of Brian Peters (Schwartz?)’ projection design that looms above the stage and covers the gamut from video games to a brace of menacing clouds to ‘cameo’ appearances by MSMT stalwarts Ben Ritchie and Amy Kelly as talking portraits.
As for the cast, major thanks go to Michael Pierce, Betsy Bowman and Cryer for their deft portrayals of Harry, Hermione and Ron, complete with serious mugging for the crowd. Robert Ashton is a kick as an absent-minded Dumbledore, Jamie Pitt does her best Maggie Smith impression as McGonagall and Rob Suozzi sneers and stares menacingly in the Alan Rickman role of Snape.
Andrew Kuhlman is a jolly and creature-friendly giant as Hagrid, John Foughty channels Elmer Fudd as Voldemort, Roger Erb is a slick and sleazy Draco, James Enstall wears sundry cloaks as many a Hogwart professor, Sarah Porter is the sultry Bellatrix et al, Tasha Zebrowski has energy aplenty as Ginny (whoever that is) and others, Adams is George (I don’t have a clue), etc., and Draco’s brainless sycophants are amusingly etched by Carl Overly and Max Knocke. Morgan Hatfield and Jaiymz Hawkins maneuver various creatures to humorous effect.
For someone with just peripheral knowledge of Master Potter and his saga, Stupefy! is a resoundingly witty and manic masterpiece. To gleeful aficionados of Rowling’s creation at the opening night performance, it sounded like an uproarious success. Stupefying, you might say.
Play: Stupefy! The 90-Minute Harry Potter
Group: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
Venue: Black Box Theatre, Scheidegger Performing Arts Center, Lindenwood University
Dates: December 14, 15 and possibly 13; call 361-5664 for info
Tickets: $10-$15; contact 361-5664 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Brian Peters