The Harry Potter series is now over twenty years old. During this time it has entertained millions of children (and parents as well!) with stories about the eponymous young wizard Harry and his loyal friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While both the books and movies weave in a significant amount of humor and even social satire, the beloved series is also a ripe target for parody, and this is the purpose of “Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” now playing at the Sterling Playmakers.
Harry Potter fans will know that Hogwarts consists of four groups of students, called houses. The Gryffindors, to which Harry and his friends belong, are known for their bravery. Ravenclaws are academic and artistic, while Slytherins are cunning. Hufflepuffs, the final house, believe in hard work and fair play. “Puffs” re-tells the story of Harry Potter – all seven books worth! – from the perspective of the Hufflepuffs, who we also discover to be the least prestigious of the wizarding houses.
…the entire cast plays their roles with verve, leaning into the self-conscious silliness of the script.
“Puffs,” again following the pattern laid out in the books and movies, follows three Puffs in particular: Wayne Hopkins who, like Harry Potter, is himself an orphan living with a relative, plus his two friends, Oliver Rivers and Megan Jones. Wayne is played with conviction by Will MacLeod. MacLeod does a good job of conveying the changing mood of his character, from wonder and puzzlement at the beginning, through early teen angst and rebelliousness, to conviction about the need to be a decent person, even when placed in a preposterous environment.
Thomas Udlock is also effective has Oliver, a frustrated aspiring mathematician. This reviewer’s 11-year-old daughter, who also attended the show, especially enjoyed Udlock’s scene in which he has a spirited conversation with Ron Weasley…the latter portrayed by a mop! Rounding out the trio is Megan Jones, played by Elizabeth Weiss; Megan clearly resents her Puff heritage and desperately wants to follow in her estranged mother’s footsteps and follow the vastly more fashionable, and evil, ways of the Dark Lord (“Mr. Voldy”).
Indeed, the entire cast plays their roles with verve, leaning into the self-conscious silliness of the script. Karis Kiss is especially noteworthy as the chronically perky Leanne, and Madeline Piedra is wonderful in portraying the brief life, and surprisingly long and comic demise, of Bippy the House Elf. Scott Ruegg, playing Mr. Voldy, is also effective, clearly channeling his inner comedic Kylo Ren of recent Star Wars fame. (Ruegg is assisted in this through his having some resemblance to Adam Driver.)
Direction and set design are both by Terry Nelson DiMurro. The sets are simple but effective. DiMurro and cast have good comic timing, and periodic references to Star Wars sprinkled throughout the production are also quite amusing. Some of the of the funniest aspects of the show may be embedded sight gags, such as Real Mr. Moody’s mad eye, and the background dancing at the Yule-Tide Ball near the end of Act I. We also get to meet, in a manner of fashion, the four founders of the four school houses, though mostly in puppet form!
While “Puffs” does assume that the audience is familiar with the Harry Potter books and/or movies, the production is both fun and lively. Both the adult and younger members of the audience (including this reviewer and his daughter) laughed heartily throughout the performance, and it was apparent that they also found the occasional poignant scenes to be moving as well. Fans of the Sterling Playmakers (a community-based non-profit organization) may be interested to know that auditions will soon begin for their next production, “The Laramie Project.”
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.
Advisory: The show contains a few comedic mildly suggestive themes and off-color puns. Mild stroboscopic lighting effects are used a few times.
“Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic” runs through March 15, 2020, at the Theatre at Sterling Middle School, 201 West Holly Avenue, Sterling, Virginia 20164. For more information click here.