By Matt Cox; Directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker
Produced by Stephen Stout and Colin Waitt
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Extended through 4.28.16
Peoples Improv Theater, 123 East 24th Street
by Artem Yatsunov on 12.12.15
L-R: Eleanor Philips, Nick Carrillo, Zac Moon, Madeline Bundy, Julie Ann Earls, and Andy Miller in Puffs. Photo by Colin Waitt.
BOTTOM LINE: A hilarious ensemble parody of everyone's favorite wizard series as told from the perspective of "not everyone's favorite" wizard house.
"Third or nothing!” Christmas comes early for all the Potter-holics thanks to Matt Cox’s Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, now playing at the People’s Improv Theatre. This send-up about “not everyone’s favorite” wizard house, the Hufflepuffs, parodies both the seven magnificent Harry Potter books and the eight (so far) movie installments, while celebrating fan culture in general. Best of all, it sets the action in the 90s, during the time of the books' original publication. It’s Boy Meets World set in Hogwarts—and it is not to be missed!
Puffs does not follow the Boy Who Lived, but rather another, totally unassuming and “unremarkable” boy. “Oh it looks like what I mistook for a smudge is actually a student’s name—Wayne Hawkins!” Thus McGonagall summons our hero, Wayne Hawkins of New Mexico, up to the Sorting Hat. Wayne is spat out into the Puffs, and immediately embraced by the grinning, ever optimistic Cedric Diggory. Played by the infallible Evan Matlby, Cedric is a charismatic blend of rock-n-roll-star and boy-next-door who ultimately becomes Wayne’s idol. All of the Puffs are achingly introverted social rejects. Totally inadvertently, Wayne becomes "besties" with wkward and brilliant “math-savant” Oliver (Langston Belton), and Meg (Julie Ann Earls), an angsty yet adorable goth whose mother worked for He Who Shall Not Be Named. The trio takes us on a deliriously funny journey of wizardly growing pains. Moon, Belton, and Earls are poignantly vulnerable and endlessly watchable.
Director Kristin McCarthy Parker’s exuberant pace rockets the ensemble through all the books and films in just “80-ish” minutes. Matt Cox’s script is blissfully hysterical, brimming with nods to the novels’ unforgettable moments. A hooded wizard starts the night off by defusing the house with a few well-aimed Deluminator flicks, driving the audience into sheer ecstasy! Shouts of despair and laughter follow later in the night when Cedric promises to finally take Wayne under his wing: “As soon as I’m done with the third task (of the Tri-Wizard Tournament), I’ll teach you everything I know.” Parker and Cox seamlessly work in some rad 90s references: Wayne falls for Ginny to the Dawson’s Creek theme, the Puffs get “butter-beer bombed” to Chumbawamba; towards the fifth year of school the three pals keep up over summer through AOL Instant Messenger instead of owl post.
Replete with hilarious catch phrases, such as “Badger, lots of badgers,” “Puff on this,” or the highly Tweetable “Third or nothing” (#thirdornothing), Cox and Parker bring their Potterverse to life as only two real fans could: there’s vomiting of blubber worms, petrified students, ghosts, fancy bathtubs, a WWF-style dragon bout, and more! The production design team of Madeline Bundy, who also designs the costumes and plays the delightfully odd and annoying Potter, along with Liz Blessing, brings the Dementors to awe-inspiring life. Bundy’s imaginative costumes capture the Man with Two Faces, Professor Sprout, and some bad-ass Death Eaters, among dozens of other magical outfits. Brian Hoes's score is epic and cinematic, and playwright Cox doubles as Sound Designer, picking just the right anthems to remind us of those glorious nineties. Duh, of course "Kiss From A Rose" makes it in! And Michael Raine’s choreography dominates. The Puffs' signature dance is pretty much everything you could ever want, while the wizard war action sequence is unreal.
Everyone in the cast plays multiple parts, with some notable scene-stealers in the ranks, including Moon, Stephen Stout, Andy Miller, and A.J. Ditty. Moon’s Wayne is a hero you can get behind, as well as the guy most likely to need saving; Moon is charm and heart personified. Among many of Stephen Stout’s impish impressions, his Quirrel, Moody, and Michael Gambon's Dumbeldore slaughter the audience; yet none slay as sweetly as his somewhat demented take on Alan Rickman’s Snape. Andy Miller’s Leanne, the dullest lantern in house Puffs, is sublime, kicking some Death Eater face and bringing down the house with some Matrix/The Watchmen wand-slinging realness. Miller also faithfully reimagines Helga Hufflepuff with the catch-phrase “Where’s my cup?," as well as Ginny Weasly holding Tom Riddle’s diary and bellowing “Oh God, what will it make me do next!?” As the Narrator, A.J. Ditty is flawless, effortlessly bringing the audience in on the action throughout the night. After driving off Bundy and Blessing’s towering and super freaking cool Dementor with an expertly cast Expecto Patronum, Ditty hands out chocolates to the front row: “here eat these—it’s magic chocolate, it will make you happy again. Everyone in the back, I’m sorry but you’re sad forever.”
Puffs has a message in its own right—be proud of who you are. Even if you go through life in third place, at least you’re not last, and that’s what being a Puff is all about! “Third or nothing” is indeed something to aspire to, so say—and tweet—it with pride: Puffs! #ThirdorNothing!
(Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic plays at the People’s Improv Theatre, 123 East 24th Street, through April 28, 2016. All tickets are $10 and available at www.thepit-nyc.com. For more information visit puffstheplay.com. Twitter: @puffstheplay.)
Puffs is by Matt Cox. Directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker. Choreographed by Michael Raine. Production Design is by Liz Blessing and Madeleine Bundy. Lighting Design is by Michelle Kelleher. Music is Composed by Brian Hoes. Sound Design is by Matt Cox. Costume and Graphics Design are by Madeleine Bundy. It is Produced by Stephen Stout and Colin Waitt.
The cast is Langston Belton, Madeleine Bundy, Jessie Cannizzaro, Nick Carillo, AJ Ditty, Julie Ann Earls, Evan Maltby, Andy Miller, Zac Moon, Ellie Philips, and Stephen Stout.