If, like me, you love the Harry Potter series, but always find yourself wondering things like, “Do those kids ever have math or English class?” or, “Why is the spell to kill people so easy to do?” then I’d like to make a suggestion: Get yourself to Goodluck Macbeth Theatre this month to see Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic.
This 2015 parody masterpiece by Matt Cox takes a new view of the Harry Potter series—that of the Hufflepuffs. The Boy Who Lived and his close network of buddies seem to hog all the limelight, so imagine the high hopes of the poor Puffs, who never really got to do much while all that mayhem kept happening around them. They must have tired of sitting on the sidelines, waving their arms and shouting, “Hey! Over here! Remember us? We’re wizards, too, guys!”
That is the premise of this roughly 2 1/2-hour romp that moves at breakneck speed through those seven extraordinary years at magic school.
The play opens on our narrator (Molly Olsen), who explains the story about to unfold before us. It’s a story about an orphan boy whose parents were both killed, and who unexpectedly received a letter from an owl and learned he was a wizard. Yes, that’s right: I am describing Wayne, from New Mexico, whose parents died in a tragic chocolate-frog incident. How’d you guess?
Wayne (played by Lily Perez) just knows he’s destined for greatness, and he’s sure this is his chance to finally prove it. When he arrives at magic school, he attends the sorting, where a talking hat puts students into their respective houses: Braves, Smarts, Snakes and Puffs. Once correctly sorted, Wayne ends up in the Puff common room, where he begins making friends, including math genius Oliver (Nui Phonphila), who quickly realizes his gifts are useless here, and Megan (Tullia Rosa), the moody, rebellious daughter of one of the Dark Lord’s former “Death Buddies.”
The oddball cast of Puffs also includes J. Finch Fletchley (Leif Aucoin), who’s convinced he’s invisible; Hannah (Amanda McHenry), who never realizes when people are bullying her; and Leanne (Maya Wolery), who keeps realizing anew, “You guys! We’re wizards!” All of them seem somewhat immature, shy and, frankly, shocked to be there, except for the Puffs’ solitary badass, Cedric Diggory (Ilyana Nightingale), whose motivational pep talks and exceptional optimism make it all the tougher when he dies. (If you think that’s a spoiler, this show isn’t really meant for you.)
Thus we proceed through each year as the Puffs struggle to find their place in this strange new world as they discover and embrace their own special gifts. Along the way, Potter-series fans will revel in the occasional Easter egg or inside joke, such as one character’s observation, “I’m telling you guys, the headmaster looks different this year!” Cox’s scripting also frequently points out the many flaws and ridiculous concepts that run rampant in Rowling’s story. For example, why are there so many balls in Quidditch, and why send messages by owl—wouldn’t email be faster?
The story grows increasingly breathless and ridiculous as one book leads to another. Fortunately, Olsen ably keeps the story from running off the rails; her extraordinary talent with a clever wink or knowing expression, not to mention a surprisingly decent sort-of British accent, is the standout performance of the show. That said, all the actors hold their own capably as they take on two or three roles throughout the play, changing costumes and props with lightning speed.
At times, the play feels too long—yet the hyper-speed pacing means that jokes sometimes fly past without giving you time to really absorb them, even occasionally falling flat. Still, the laughs abound—plus, you get to return to Hogwarts for just a little while. If you’re like me, that alone is satisfying.
Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, through Saturday, July 30; there will also be performances at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 13 (pay what you decide), and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 24. Shows take place at 124 W. Taylor St., and tickets are $20 to $35, with discounts. For tickets or more information, call 775-322-3716, or visit goodluckmacbeth.org.