Very funny and silly ‘Puffs’ spoofs Harry Potter at Silhouette Stages

The jokes fly thick and fast in this parody, but it is often much more.

How many fans of a certain fantasy franchise have been disappointed at logging onto its website to be sorted into Hufflepuff House, the catch-all bin for those who aren’t Brave, or Smart, or even Evil? (Oh… um… is that just me?)  Puffs (Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic) is for us. And for anyone else who has read all the books, seen all the movies, or at least has a passing familiarity with the biggest cultural phenomenon of the turn of the millennium.

Faith Wang, Danny Bertaux, Tricia Anderson and cast of ‘Puffs.’ Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography.Faith Wang, Danny Bertaux, Tricia Anderson and cast of ‘Puffs.’ Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography.

It is a parody, yes, and a very silly one, but it is often much more. In the tradition of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the show presents a very famous play from the point of view of the minor characters, emphasizing how boring, inconvenient, and demoralizing it can be not to be the hero of the story. For instance, at one point, all the characters are playing their hearts out in Quidditch when the game ends abruptly as Harry catches the Snitch, making all their effort worthless. Another time, the students are left staring at the lake for an hour during the underwater test in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. For the Puffs, the real action is always happening elsewhere. But as these peripheral characters’ stories develop, they prove to be more interesting and heroic than they seem at first.

Because the play by Matt Cox intends to cover all seven books without taking five hours over two nights to see (a swipe at J.K. Rowling’s play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), the pace is frenetic. The jokes fly thick and fast, often too fast to catch all of them (unlike the Snitch). It feels at times like a college comedy skit show where they threw in every gag they could think of but didn’t have time to do an edit. For instance, a news reporter shows up on a knee-scooter (Skeeter/scooter, get it?), or the entire cast gets roaring drunk on Butterbeer. In one strange interlude, a character goes off on an extended monologue about roller coasters that seems to have nothing to do with the story. But because the jokes come so rapid-fire, there’s always hope for the next one, and most of them pay off. Many of the best are rather “meta” — referring to circumstances surrounding the books and plays, such as a student remarking, “The Headmaster looks different this year!” (a reference to a change in the actor playing Dumbledore between two of the movies), or an image of a Dalek (from Doctor Who) on one of the projections, or a quote of a line from Hamilton, both of which nod to the crossover nature of fandom.

But the true heart and humor of the show comes from the characters, and the actors who play them. A very touching Cedric Diggory (Yousuf Shah) turns into a side-splitting Voldy with a band-aid over his nose. Hannah (Delaney Gregg) capably handles the roles of student, all the female professors, plus the evil witch-mother Xavia. Suzie Bones (Charlie Tell) has to move fast to double as Harry and then jump back into being a Puff.

And the most interesting characters are the ones who didn’t appear in the source material: The Narrator (Amy Haynes Rapnicki), Wayne Hopkins (Gabe Duque), Oliver Rivers (Danny Bertaux), and Megan Jones (Lia Grady). Rapnicki, with her warm, knowing presence, grounds this frantic dash through the entire Rowling opus. Douque, Bertaux, and Grady excel as students who arrive thinking they will be stars, only to find that they are nothing special. Especially compelling and funny is Grady’s Megan, ironically a goth at a school for witchcraft who discovers she only wants to be loved. Bertaux’s Oliver earnestly presents an excellent student who discovers he’s at a school where academics don’t matter. And Douque’s Wayne, who really thinks he will be the hero, movingly depicts facing the hard truth that perhaps he did not matter that much at all. But in the end, Puffs teaches some crucial lessons: No one is “the chosen one”; ordinary people have worth, too; failure is a form of practice; and we are all the heroes of our own stories.

Cast of ‘Puffs.’ Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography.

Silhouette Stages’ Puffs is not high-tech, which is a big part of its charm. Harry’s famous friends appear only as a couple of mops, for instance (along with multitudes of other kooky props by Leah Freeman). The most impressive effects in the show are a lovely starry sky drop above the stage and other lighting by TJ Lukacsina, and some very funny projections by Sebastian Sears — including one bit where the Narrator tells the Basilisk that it is early for its cue, so it slithers off again. Also notable is the music that sounds like a John Williams clone, supplied by the rights holders. Sebastian Sears’ basic but functional set consists of doors for each of the four houses. Lexi Gmeinwieser’s costumes have a thrown-together quality that seems perfectly appropriate, and they nail the hyper-quick changes that all the part-swapping demands. Veteran Director Carl Randolph juggles all of this, plus all the chaos of actors jumping into multiple roles, with aplomb. If the Final Battle seems to run a little long as all the actors change back and forth from evil to good, well, in the real franchise, the final book took two whole films. It’s hard to see how it might have been done better.

Puffs is a funny, silly, touching, and ultimately thought-provoking piece that asks, Why are we so obsessed with heroes? In the end, it’s really the ordinary people with heart and perseverance, who pick themselves up and carry on day by day, who matter most.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

Puffs plays through March 24, 2024 (Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm), presented by Silhouette Stages performing at Slayton House in the Wilde Lake Village Center, 10400 Cross Fox Lane Columbia, MD. Purchase tickets ($24, adult; $20, senior, student, military, educator; $15, child) online. For additional information, call 410-216-4499 or email [email protected]

COVID Safety: Masks are highly encouraged but not required. The theater’s full COVID Safety Plan policy is here.

(Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic)
A Play by Matt Cox

Narrator – Amy Haynes Rapnicki
Wayne Hopkins – Gabe Duque
Oliver Rivers – Danny Bertaux
Megan Jones – Lia Grady
Ernie Mac – Chris Riehl
Hannah – Delaney Gregg
J. Finch Fletchley – Nikolai Skwarczek
Leanne – Faith Wang
Sally Perks – Tricia Anderson
Susie Bones – Charlie Tell
Cedric/ Voldy – Yousuf Shah

Director – Carl Randolph
Stage Manager – Tyler Hart
Costume Designer – Linda Swan
Makeup Design – Carl Randolph
Set Design- Sebastian Sears
Set Dresser – Jessie Krupkin
Properties Design – Leah Freeman
Lighting Designer – TJ Lukacsina
Sound Designer – TBD
Incidental Music – Carl Randolph
Projections Designer – Sebastian Sears
Stage Combat – Carl Randolph
Producers – Becca Hanauer & Ande Kolp

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Jennifer Georgia
Over the past [mumble] decades, Jennifer has acted, directed, costumed, designed sets, posters, and programs, and generally theatrically meddled on several continents. She has made a specialty of playing old bats — no, make that “mature, empowered women” — including Lady Bracknell in Importance of Being Earnest (twice); Mama Rose in Gypsy and the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella at Montgomery Playhouse; Dolly in Hello, Dolly! and Carlotta in Follies in Switzerland; and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady in London. (Being the only American in a cast of 40, playing the woman who taught Henry Higgins to speak, was nerve-racking until a fellow actor said, “You know, it’s quite odd — when you’re on stage you haven’t an accent at all.”) She has no idea why she keeps getting cast as these imposing matriarchs; she is quite easygoing. Really. But Jennifer also indulges her lust for power by directing shows including You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Follies. Most recently, she directed, costumed, and designed and painted the set for Rockville Little Theatre’s She Stoops to Conquer, for which she won the WATCH Award for Outstanding Set Painting. In real life, she is a speechwriter and editor, and tutors learning-challenged kids for standardized tests and application essays.


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