Play Review: Puffs

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Photo by Luxe Palmer

The Puffs assemble in formation, ready to attack any possible threat

The story of Harry Potter is laced with nostalgia. Reading the books as a kid, watching the movies over and over, and– if you were me– obsessing over the series and its universe for the rest of your life. However, alongside most every other fictional story, the Harry Potter series has a few plot holes. Namely, why does J.K. Rowling neglect the Hufflepuffs entirely? The house only has a few popular characters, Cedric Diggory being the one to come to mind first, with Newt Scamander and Theodora Tonks being slightly less known. In the series and movies, we never get a glimpse at the Hufflepuff common room; the only mention of the room is that it’s “near the kitchens.” While the series only follows Harry Potter and his antics around Hogwarts, “Puffs” fills in the plot holes with comedy, satire, and some well-placed jabs at the series.

Helga Hufflepuff tells the story of the originations of the Puff house

“Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic” was written by Matt Cox, a New York-based playwright, in 2015. The fact that the play is not officially licensed or recognized by the Harry Potter brand only makes the play all the more funny. The story follows Wayne Hopkins, a wizard from New Mexico, who attends A Certain School of Magic and Magic at the same time as Harry. He and his two friends learn how to be Puffs: by always striving for third place in the House Cup Tournament, hiding in the corner, and living by the mantra, “We are not a threat!” Cedric, who is revered as the top Puff, played by Owen Milks (12), leads the first years in their efforts to avoid the dementors, Death Buddies, and Voldy himself. Eventually, Wayne learns how to accept his status as a Puff and learns to step out from the corner, saving his friends in the process. Unfortunately, (spoiler) Wayne suddenly dies in the end, simply adding to the mile-long list of characters that died in the Harry Potter story.

The three main characters include: Wayne, played by Spencer Russum (12), Megan, played by Lacey Rubenstein (12), and Oliver, played by Brennen Ledlow (12). They are original characters, but the supporting characters are wittily reminiscent of actual Harry Potter characters, such as J Finch Fletchley (Justin Finch Fletchley), Ernie Mac (Ernie Macmillan), Susie Bones (Susan Bones), Professor Turban (Quirrell), Mr Nick (Nearly-Headless Nick), and Professor McG (McGonagall). The characters are essentially SNL character sketches: A Certain Potions Professor (Snape), played by Jake Burton (12), wears a toupee of black yarn and grumbles in the classic Alan Rickman baritone (which Burton pulled off flawlessly). Headmaster’s (Dumbledore) obvious favoritism is poked fun at, while Professor Sprouty (Sprout) is given the stage time she never got in the original series. Professor McG, played by Anna Salek (12), has a Scottish accent and wears cat ears, of course.

The Puffs enact the prefects’ bathroom, in which Cedric discovered the secret of the Golden Egg
The three Hermeoones encounter confusion as the time-travel to attend all their classes

The houses are also named accordingly: Brave (Gryffindor), Snakes (Slytherin), Smarts (Ravenclaw), and Puffs (Hufflepuff). The Puffs stand out from the rest of the houses, as they’re not named after a defining trait, and this proves to be a significant point in the play. What are Puffs defined by? In the books, Hufflepuffs are mostly characterized by their loyalty, friendliness, work ethic, and ability to find things. The Sorting Hat itself, in its song one year, states that “Good [Helga] Hufflepuff, she took the rest.” Hufflepuffs have been cast off as “less special” than the rest of the houses, but “Puffs” finally gives them the spotlight.

While the play makes sure to separate itself enough from the original storyline, filling in the gaps that were left unattended by Rowling, the play makes just enough references to the original series to pull smiles from Harry Potter fans in the audience. Myrtle (Moaning Myrtle) shows up in the bathroom when Cedric finally learns the secret of the Golden Egg; Mr Moody (Mad-Eye Moody) wears a giant googly eye; Hermeoone (Hermione), of whom there are three, wears comically giant wigs of yarn. The storyline of “Puffs” shares a good few characteristics with the Harry Potter series as well: Wayne, just like Harry, is wracked with angst during fifth year; Oliver and Megan, just like Ron and Hermione, are married in the epilogue; Wayne even gets a crush on Ginny during second year (though Harry liked her during sixth year, but the parallel still remains). However, even with no previous knowledge of the Harry Potter universe (though you might miss a few sly references), the play is still thoroughly enjoyable on its own.

Cedric teaches the Puffs how to embrace their Puff-ness after being sorted into the Puffs house.

“Puffs” fits into a niche category of plays- semi-improv comedy shows. While the majority of the play is scripted, the playwright gave ample room for the actors to improvise and put their own spin on the play. Bear Necessity Theatre Company Josh Belk and the actors themselves perfected the improvisation parts- namely, the infamous role of Zach Smith. In the original script, Zach Smith is the Sports coach that rejects all the Puffs from the Sports team. For BNTC’s production of “Puffs,” Zach Smith was alternately played by beloved PRHS teachers Josh Belk, Paul Mole, and Butch Eversole. The crowd was appropriately riled up at the entrance of Zach Smith and his monologue was improved each night from scratch. Voldy, played by Milks, also interrupts the play at one point to improv while mingling with the crowd. During his monologue, Voldy proposes many valid questions, such as “why doesn’t Voldy wear shoes??”

Zach Smith, played by Mr Eversole, leads the Puffs in an improvised dance as part of the try-outs for the Sports team
Voldy and his Death Buddies pause for a dance break after capturing Oliver, Megan, and Wayne

Though there were a few snafus during the three nights of performances- such as accidentally breaking props and the set itself malfunctioning- BNTC’s rendition of “Puffs” was a delightfully entertaining story, with each actor fully embracing their characters and the crew designing the set, working the lights, and mixing the sound like, well… magic. It was easy to tell just how much fun the company had putting on this play, which is exactly what’s at the heart of “Puffs.”