Magic is real and growing up is just as awkward for teenage wizards as it is for muggles: that’s what we learn in the hilarious play Puffs, or seven increasingly eventful years at a certain school of magic and magic. Fans of a particular British boy wizard whose adventures first captivated international readers and moviegoers around the turn of the 21st century would do well to catch Know Theatre's next performance of this delightfully farcical comedy.
The show begins with an introduction by the narrator (Merritt Beischel) who finds herself somewhat baffled at having to condense the exploits of seven strange magical years into a show that’s about 120 minutes (including a 15-minute intermission). Nevertheless, she persists in her prim British manner and introduces us to the main story. Regular addendums by Beischel’s narration bookend each scene.
Wayne Hopkins (Ben Dudley) learns he is bound for magic school. There, a talking hat separates the students into four different houses: Braves, Smarts, Snakes and Puffs. It is in the Puffs’ house where Wayne meets his new best friends: the mathematical savant Oliver Rivers (Brandon Burton), who can't quite get a grip on magic, and Megan Jones (Maliyah Gramata-Jones), an angry young lady who feels she's been misplaced in the Puffs due to her being the daughter of a notorious "Death Buddy" that supported the evilest wizard from Snakes house, Mr. Voldy (Andrew Ian Adams).
While the other houses are celebrated for their courage, intelligence or cunningness, the Puffs are a collection of magical doofuses and pushovers with an affinity for snacks and early bedtime. Guided by Cedric (also played by Andrew Ian Adams), the one Puff who seems to really have potential in the eyes of other houses, the Puffs aim high and challenge themselves to achieve mediocrity.
The new trio of Puff pals attend magic school the same years as that famous wizard boy (played with tongue gleefully in cheek by Jordan Trovillion). The show only refers to the bespectacled wizard as Harry, as it seems Harry is now he-who-must-not-be-fully-named in order for the show to avoid lawsuits. Harry's faithful pals Ron and Hermione are primarily represented by frizzy mops. And it really works.
Puffs simultaneously celebrates and lampoons its source material with the "wink wink, nudge nudge" kind of amicable confrontation reserved for a childhood friend with whom you affectionately trade beratements. There are many, many jokes packed into this play, each executed with machine gun rapidity. You don't have to be a diehard Potterhead to enjoy what's happening on the stage, but having seen or read the original wizarding adventures does significantly lend to the experience, as major segments that may have taken hundreds of pages to unfold in the source books are mentioned only in passing for the sake of a punchline.
Wayne wants to be the hero in a story that’s already been assigned one and that fact weighs heavily on our main character as the school years go by. Dudley, with a deep understanding of comedic contrast, plays Wayne straight in order to complement the often wacky performances of his supporting cast — special credit to Maggie Cramer, Brianna Bernard and Chris Wesselman for adding a stupendous amount of charisma and levity to the production. While this play was obviously written with a particular wizard’s exploits in mind, it serves as an excellent standalone performance with heart and joy all its own. As the show’s producing artistic director Andrew Hungerford says in the playbill, “Puffs builds on a long tradition of transforming stories that we know and love in order to look at them from a different angle.” In this case, we’re seeing a hero’s journey through the underdog’s eye.
Puffs moves chronologically from the students’ first year to the final days in their magic school. All of the major events you’d expect to see are likely covered, but never in the same way you might have experienced before. If you’re the kind of fan who absorbs the source material with any regularity, you’ll find yourself absolutely enchanted by playwright Matt Cox’s attention to detail concerning small references that only some eagle-eyed audiences might recognize.
Puffs is the perfect excuse to marathon all eight films of a certain franchise (no, not Star Wars) with your family and friends this holiday season. Life’s weird enough without magic and, as Puffs demonstrates, it only gets weirder when wizards are left in charge.
Know Theatre’s Puffs is onstage through Dec. 21. For more info/tickets, visit knowtheatre.com.