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'Puffs, Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic'

Harry Potter as you’ve never seen it before: from the Hufflepuff point of view

Photos by Colin Waitt

Wayne Hopkins is just your average, everyday orphan sent to live with his aunt and uncle who finds out at age 11 that he is a wizard. Unlike certain other auspicious young wizards we might name, however, his fate at a certain school of magic and magic is far more ordinary. For Wayne is not Brave, or Smart, or a Snake; Wayne is a Puff.

From the team behind the surprising geek hit Kapow-i GoGo comes a new pastiche parody performance, Puffs, Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic by Matt Cox. The story covers all of the events of the barely disguised Harry Potter series, but from the Hufflepuff point of view, in just 90 minutes. In this nonstop performance, a cast of 11 takes on the roles of students, professors, ghosts and villains, as well as a few new faces we haven't seen before.

Inserted into the events of the original series are a new trio of unlikely friends: leader Wayne; math genius Oliver, who discovers that his character-defining intelligence does not in fact translate into being any good at magic; and Megan, the daughter of a famous imprisoned dark witch determined to be the first member of her family to not get sorted into the Puffs...a quest she fails at in the first few minutes of the show. As silly and entertaining as the play's new take on the events of Harry Potter may be, it is actually the original story of these three young wizards that proves the most engaging. From the idea of a goth Puff to abandoning owls for AOL Instant Messenger for safer communication, or the tragic fate of a teenage "Mugborn" boy who must go on the run alone to avoid capture while his friends return to school without him, Puffs explores dimensions of the universe that were impossible for the Chosen Ones to see.

With the exception of the central trio, everyone in the cast plays multiple roles, often needing to switch without even leaving the stage. Since everyone has at least one character who is a Puff, the play becomes a communal experience as the beleaguered House struggles to come in at least third place in the House Cup tournament. Meanwhile, the piece gives individual personalities to what in the original books was often a one-dimensional blend of friendly Hufflepuffs, including Susan Bones, Hannah Abbott, Ernie Macmillan and Justin Finch, or as he calls himself, J Finch.

Condensed into such a short performance time, the play oftentimes feels more like a montage than a true story. The most time is spent detailing the fourth year at school, or as they call it, "The Year the Puffs Mattered," due to the influence of Cedric and the Triwizard Tournament, though the pastiche does serve to highlight the absurdity of Harry Potter's quests from the bystander's point of view. But it also puts the true heroism of the "minor" character's in Harry's story front and center, and the play's very well done Battle of Hogwarts sequence expresses the true violence and all-encompassing nature of the wizards' war far better than the simple pile of bodies we read about in the books.

While Zac Moon is the epitome of Hufflepuff as protagonist Wayne, it is Langston Belton as down-on-his-luck nerd Oliver and Julie Ann Earls as dark Puff Megan who steal the show with their energy and commitment to the larger-than-life roles. Other standout performances include Madeleine Bundy, who expertly shifts between the roles of Susie Bones and Harry Potter in the blink of an eye, and Andy Miller as clueless yet oddly endearing Leeanne who shows her mettle at exactly the right moment.

And of course, there is the stunning virtuoso performance of the character of Ron Weasley, portrayed by a red-headed mop. Indeed, while unfortunately this show contains far less expert puppetry of the sort that lit up Cox's previous show Kapow-i GoGo, the Weasley mop and the spooky Dementor puppet are an outstanding element and add a great deal to the performance.

By the end of Puffs, one thing has become clear: not everyone can be the Boy Who Lived, but everyone can make a difference when their friends and family are at stake. In much the same fashion, this piece of theater is hardly a Broadway masterpiece, but its scrappy thrown-together attitude is just as endearing to its audience as the Puffs themselves. Also if you come to this show, you can watch a certain Potions professor give the wizard sex talk.

Puffs, Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic plays at the People's Improv Theater through January 29.

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