NYC has a brand new Harry Potter play about Hufflepuffs, and it’s totally awesome!
The Harry Potter franchise, having conquered the world of print, film, and theme parks, has lately been venturing onto the stage. J.K. Rowling herself is helping write The Cursed Child over in London, and Team StarKid recently partook in A Very StarKid Reunion at University of Michigan. But for Potter fans in New York City, they need look neither to the future nor the past to see the Boy Who Lived on stage — a new play opened this past week at the Peoples Improv Theatre!
Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, written by Matt Cox, finally gives the Hufflepuffs their due after they’ve been given short shrift in the series. Here lies the answer to “What the hell is a Hufflepuff?” The official synopsis reads:
“Wayne Hopkins — a boy from New Mexico who is neither brave, smart, nor a snake — finds out he’s a wizard. Upon arrival at a certain school of magic and magic, he’s placed into the Puffs: a group of well meaning, loyal rejects. Over the next seven years, he’ll try to learn magic; try not to have his life ruined by his four-eyed nemesis; and try to not to get hurt in what is actually a very dangerous place to for unsupervised children to be. Sometimes he will succeed. Partially.”
This writer, clad in Hufflepuff robes, shirt, tie, gloves, hat, and scarf, went to see the second performance of the play with a dozen (mostly Hufflepuff) friends. We had tempered expectations after the disappointment of Potted Potter a couple of years ago. The whole group of us was unanimously enraptured by the masterful parody of our favorite books. The play was hilarious, gently mocking the series and making clever jokes that only the true Potter fans get. There are tongue-in-cheek references to the movies (“Dumbledore looks different this year!”), but it stays firmly in the universe of the books. It provides a look at how the Hufflepuffs interact with each other, presenting totally believable dynamics among the Hufflepuffs. Wayne’s story closely parallels Harry’s in many points — a trio of friends (called Megan and Oliver), an angsty fifth year, and a sexually awakening sixth year — and Harry is a significant supporting character (played for laughs by a tiny girl).
The strongest part of the play is Year Four — “The one where the Hufflepuffs actually mattered.” Cedric Diggory, played by Evan Maltby, absolutely steals the show. Cedric is one of the characters best served by fanon, and Maltby infuses him with insane charisma. The friendship between Cedric and Wayne is well-developed, leading to an explosion of feelings when Cedric dies. Much like that was a turning point for the book series, the play gets much darker after this, all while maintaining its rapid-fire humor. Avoiding spoilers, we can say that the play’s interpretation of the Battle of Hogwarts got really dark and really emotional.
While the first half of Puffs skews pretty closely to the events of the books, the latter half veers into original moments some of the time. Wayne’s friend, Megan, has a very interesting subplot with her mother about embracing what it means to be a Hufflepuff. There is a great moment where the trio revisits the Mirror of Erised, which would have been nice to see in the books. And one of the more interesting scenes was the Hufflepuffs conferring right before the Battle of Hogwarts, discussing whether to fight or not — that must have been an interesting conversation in all of the Houses. We’re being deliberately opaque here because the play and the punchlines are so good, they deserve to be experienced unspoiled.
Make no mistake, the production values here are practically nonexistent. The whole show was funded by a $2500 Kickstarter — there is no set, pretty much no costumes, and very minimal props. A hard-working cast of eleven portrays nearly thirty characters. But as proven by The Lightning Thief musical last year, a great script is what’s needed for a good stage adaptation that captures the spirit of the source material. And the script here is good enough that we would buy a copy (hint, hint, PIT).
For more information on the show, which runs through the end of January on a rather erratic schedule, visit www.puffstheplay.com. The play costs only $10, and is a must-see for any Harry Potter fans in NYC, regardless of House.
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