By Eric J. Grimm
Tilted Windmills Theatricals has created a loving parody and tribute to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series in their production of PUFFS: Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic. Led by director Kristin McCarthy Parker, a committed ensemble of eleven performers zooms through an alternative narrative of Rowling’s Hogwarts School tales that focuses on the misfits of the Hufflepuff house, home to students not brave enough to be Gryffindors, smart enough to be Ravenclaws, or cunning enough to be Slytherins. The rapid-fire production riffs mostly off of references that will please serious Potter fans but has enough broad humor to reach a wider audience.
PUFFS features its own trio of students whose experiences sometimes mirror those of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Wayne (Zac Moon) is an American video game nerd who leaves behind his dull life in New Mexico to attend Hogwarts. He quickly befriends Oliver (Langston Belton), a fellow American who excels at traditional schooling but struggles with magic. Against her wishes, goth witch Megan (Julie Ann Earls), whose mother was one of the dark lord Voldemort’s allies, succumbs to the power of friendship and loyalty and becomes inseparable from the boys. While the trio pushes the plot forward as they fail to stand out in the presence of their more famous schoolmates, it’s the rest of the Puffs who provide many of the funniest moments. Standouts include Andy Miller’s Leanne, a dimwitted witch whose grasp of reality is tenuous at best, and who Miller captures with her wide and expressive eyes and physical command of the stage. Nick Carrillo also shines as J. Finch Fletch, a confident take on a minor character from Rowling’s books, who throws the audience into a fit of giggles with a sustained boyish goofiness. The ensemble work in the show is strong enough to make it disappointing not to single out each performer.
Matt Cox’s script pummels with multiple gags a minute, which can be exhausting in a show that runs just over ninety minutes. Its an ambitious undertaking to cover the events of seven books and while Cox is mostly successful in hitting the key points, the story barely has room to breathe as jokes and physical comedy bits are thrown to the back of the house with abandon. The play works best when it balances criticism and adoration for its subject matter. It points out logical inconsistencies with some of Rowling’s narrative while showing a genuine affection for all of its characters. Shaky moments and some jokes that don’t land aside, it concludes with a mixture and cynicism and warmth that sells the concept. Here is a work of underground theater that often beautifully complements its mainstream counterpart.
PUFFS is playing at Elektra Theatre (300 W. 43rd St.) through December 30th. For tickets, visit http://puffstheplay.com
Photos: Hunter Canning