By Eric J. Grimm
Much as the warm and textured world of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series encourages rereading for millions of fans, PUFFS, a loving comedic tribute to the misfits of the wizarding world by Matt Cox, endures off Broadway with memorable characters both new and expanded from Rowling’s books. After successful runs at People’s Improv Theater and Elektra Theater, the production, directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker, has upscaled considerably at New World Stages for an open-ended run. Bigger sets and impressive puppets add some flare but the joy of revisiting the well-loved Puffs is what is sure to keep the show going for some time.
Cox’s script is mostly the same from the previous production and sports the same weaknesses and strengths. Inside jokes about Harry Potter media often garner the biggest laughs from die-hard fans but feel cheap, especially since there is so much inspired comedy here that has more to do with Cox’s own creations than Rowling’s. Parker continues to run a tight ship with a production that mostly moves rapidly but also takes time to breathe and let you sit with the characters. It’s a bit overstuffed at times with some incoherent physical gags and technical difficulties with the set but it still feels delightfully DIY overall.
Revisiting PUFFS elicits all of the warm and fuzzies right now owing to the fact that the cast is completely intact from the original run. I hadn’t realized how much I loved the characters until I saw them all again and felt like I was hearing timeless stories from old friends. Singling out anyone in a uniformly strong ensemble, particularly in a show where a group of underdogs frequently asserts that they are stronger together, feels unfair. It is worth noting that the cast’s increased familiarity with their roles has made them even more memorable. This is especially evident with Julie Ann Earls, who plays reluctant Puff Megan. Earls had the broad comedy down but has now firmly dialed into the sticky sweetness of the show, making her arc from aspiring snakelike baddie to committed goth badger all the more believable and a shining example of the show’s sincerity.
PUFFS: Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic is playing in an open-ended run at New World Stages (340 W. 50th St.) For tickets, visit http://www.puffstheplay.com