Everyone loves Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The dynamic wizarding trio who saved the world and won the hearts of a generation. But what if there was another story underneath all that? Something less remarkable, less destiny driven… more badger oriented? Look no further than the story of the Puffs in Puffs. While students at a certain school of boy magic and girl magic were enraptured with the boy who lived, the members of the Puffs house were muddling through their education, just about maintaining a passing grade average. Their thrills and spills rising above their shortcomings to a place just slightly higher than their shortcomings is a heartwarming tale, and probably one of the funniest things running Off-Broadway right now.
Wayne (Zac Moon) lives in America. He's relatively normal. Suddenly he finds out that he is a wizard and is shipped off to school in England. He is sorted in to the Puffs house. Apparently it is the worst house in the school. He befriends Oliver (Langston Belton), a brilliant mathematician, but less than brilliant conjurer, and Megan (Julie Ann Earls), a goth wizard outcast. They form an awkward trio and their adventures run in tandem to the events of the Harry Potter franchise, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fashion. Along the way they interact with the faculty (Stephen Stout, Eleanor Philips), and their fellow Puffs (Jessie Cannizzaro, Nick Carrillo, Andy Miller). Not to mention the greatest Puff of them all, Cedric Diggory (James Fouhey), and, of course, Harry Potter (Madeleine Bundy) and co. All of this is narrated by A. J. Ditty.
Puffs is incredibly funny, with a joke-per-minute rate that rivals a golden-era Simpsons episode. This show started at The PIT, spent about a year playing at The Elektra Theatre, and then finally wound up at its current home at New Wold Stages. All that time and process has honed Matt Cox's script in to a zero-fat production. Highlights include Andy Miller as Leanne accidentally convincing her school friend Jay Finch (Nick Carrillo) that he is actually her imaginary friend, the Puffs' battle-cry ("We are not a threat, please be our friend"), Wayne's accurate description of spectating at the second Tri-Wizard challenge ("We're staring at a lake"), and, of course, the Puffs' defiant motto: "Third or Nothing!" And this is just the tip of quite a substantial iceberg.
"Few comedies like Puffs manage to find pathos and revelry in commensurate measure, but Matt Cox and company do so brilliantly."
The humor in Puffs is enough to make it great, but what pushes it into the pantheon of all-timers is its heart. Matt Cox's great gift as a writer, and Kristin McCarthy Parker's great gift as a director is their ability to take seemingly two-dimensional characters and make you care about them with all your being. The Puffs are ridiculous cartoons, but by the time the Battle of Hogwarts rolls around, and you see these lovable weirdos facing down vicious killers, your insides are leaping all over the place. It's fist-pumpingly fun to watch them have moments of magical badassery, and it's heartbreakingly sad to watch some of them meet their end. Few comedies like Puffs manage to find pathos and revelry in commensurate measure, but Matt Cox and company do so brilliantly.
If you're a fan of J. K. Rowling's wizarding world, then Puffs is most definitely for you. You will laugh at the broad strokes comedy, giggle at the Potter-minutiae that is sprinkled liberally throughout, and you might even shed a few tears at a given moment. If you're a died in the wool Muggle, there's still a lot to love here. The writing is such that even without a magical frame of reference, there's plenty to enjoy. At it's core, Puffs is a story about not fitting in when it feels like everyone else does, a tale as old as Disney. But Puffs goes one further on that. Most outcast narratives end with said outcast being secretly the most important person in the world. This is not the case here. Wayne has it force-fed to him again and again that he is unimportant, and the message of Puffs is that this is okay. It doesn't make your life any less meaningful, even if you are, literally, a background character in someone else's story. Not enough people are willing to say that, and say it in a warm, and funny way. Puffs is wonderful, charming, hilarious, and I may now prefer it to the Harry Potter series. Which is saying something. Go see it and take the whole family.
Thomas Burns Scully is a PopDust contributor, and also an award-winning actor, playwright, and musician. In his spare time he writes and designs escape rooms. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter