Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan
Have you ever heard a joke that everyone else is laughing at, but you just don ‘t feel in on it? This is how I felt at New World Stages production of Puffs. An alternate view on Harry Potter. I had seen all the movies, but still lost a lot of the humor as the references were very specific most of the time. I wish the show used broader jokes and more universality to make it appealing to a larger audience.
Puffs is told from the point of view of the HufflePuff clan that exists in Harry Potter’s School of magic. They are viewed as the worst group to belong to out of the four teams that exist in the institute. Enter, new HufflePuff, Wayne wearing a T-shirt and Jeans. He is the least assuming wizard in the school, but desperately wants the accolades that Harry gets. Along his journey he meets Megan and Oliver and the trio become unlikely friends, helping each other learn and survive the world of magic. The whole play spans seven years giving an account of the highlights of each year. During this, we watch these three companions form a strong bond and eventually become fierce wizards. There are several references to Potter, Hermione, and Ron. (Potter is played by a girl while Hermione and Ron are mop heads.) Each achievement that Potter makes, seems to Wayne more jealous and determined to leave his own mark.
The play works best when it tells this story as there is a clear through line and we don’t need to have read all the books to understand it. But much of the play, makes such specific references that if you aren’t a “Potter buff” you get lost easily. The actors keep a very quick pace that makes it hard for the comedy to land before another different reference is made. There were moments of pure hilarity, but these happen when more universal and well-known jokes are made. But If you’re a Potter wiz yourself you will probably get all the jokes as at least half of the audience did.
The actors are incredible. All versatile and able to make each character they are assigned distinct. Specifically Michael Axelrod does a remarkable job changing character and costumes almost every five seconds. His talent for shape-shifting comedy is unparalleled. James Fouhey plays Cedric and Voldemort extremely well. His interpretation of the dark lord via a megaphone is both creepy and funny. This actor has range and the comic chops to pull it off.
This shows technical elements are stunning; things fall from ceilings, large ominous hands appear representing the evil beasts. They certainly create a world of magic and spectacle that immerses you in the play. This show is worth seeing for this feat alone.
So I left this show feeling like the kid at a dance with no one to dance with. Glad I was there, but sadly disappointed. Maybe I should have known that I needed to polish my Potter knowledge before seeing this show, but doesn’t the show have a responsibility to include every kind of patron? Unfortunately Puffs huffs and puffs but doesn’t blow my house down.
Puffs play now at New World Stages 340 West 50th St www.puffstheplay.com