The Monty Python satire, “The Life of Brian,” spends its first few minutes differentiating the birth of Brian from the birth of Jesus. Thus, from the beginning of the movie, the audience knows that although Brian’s life often mirrors Jesus’ life, they are not the same.
The same device is used to start the satire “Puffs,” a takeoff on the Harry Potter chronicles. The circumstances surrounding Harry’s birth are echoed in the birth of Puff house member Wayne Hopkins (Timmy Remington). It’s a clever opening that sets up an expectation of fun.
I don’t know how someone unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series would react to this play because it is one big inside joke. Those of us who have read the books have much to delight in, in this debunking of the magical world of Hogwarts, “a certain school of magic and magic” as writer Matt Cox describes it.
The Puffs are the friendliest, most group oriented of the four Hogwarts houses, the least ambitious or after glory. They are the nice ones and the least suitable for adventures. Their Puff group hugs get them through most of their problems.
As the Griffindors of the books have three heroes, Harry, Ron and Hermione, so do the Puffs: Wayne, Oliver Rivers (RiQuandrion Mangum) and Megan Jones (Kaitlynn Tarrant). While Wayne is an all-around nice but passive guy, Oliver, unlike Ron Weasley who struggles with his studies, is a brilliant mathematician.
And unlike the principled Hermione — Hermeoone 1, 2 and 3 (Holly Leavitt, Jennifer Wong and Ray Keady) — Megan thinks she wants to follow in the footsteps of her mother Xavia (Esmeralda Castillo), a follower of Mr. Voldy — Lord Voldemort (Hunter Halfmann). Of course, mother and daughter are Puffs, so it’s not easy for them to be evil — they’re too nice.
The names and numbers start adding up. Eleven actors play 49 roles.
When they came onstage for their curtain call, I was surprised to see how few of them there were.
“Puffs” tries to tell the whole story embedded in the 4,167 pages of the seven books (I looked up the number). And that may be one of its drawbacks. A friend said it was like watching 200 one-minute sketches.
Some of the play is so funny! The casting of Jennifer Wong as Harry Potter is priceless. She shows just the right kind of nervous energy and sincerity that is so at odds with the laid back style of the Puffs.
Three Hermeoones is its own kind of magic. The three have bushy wigs of various lengths and they’re all different sizes. I won’t say anything about the depiction of Ron Weasley — you have to see him to appreciate him.
The costumes are another level of fun. The black, shaggy, greasy hair of A Certain Potions Teacher makes him impossible to miss. Professor Turban’s head scarf clearly shows he’s carrying someone along with him. The various embodiments of the Headmaster wear beards each stiffer and less attractive than the last one.
Myrtle, the ghost who hangs out in a boys’ room toilet is dressed demurely but she is as inappropriate onstage as she is in the books.
There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments in the play.
One character is hoping to get a light saber to do battle with the enemies. Another talks about calling on his inner robocop to fight effectively. The Puffs, like many of the other Hogwarts students, have a hard time learning to use their wands effectively. The scene in which they all learn to stupefy at the same moment is expected and funnier for it.
One character talking about food choices refers to Soylent Green, the crackers made out of people in the movie of that name. Using the crackers as the main food supply is the means of curbing population growth.
They don’t actually show up in the play, but the reference adds a dystopian feel to the Hogwarts world.
There are several important deaths in Harry Potter but they are almost mocked in “Puffs.” Don’t be offended. It’s just the nature of the work.
It seems like the play should move quickly but it doesn’t. That might have something to do with all the scene changes. Perhaps letting the narrator talk more while the scene is being changed would move things along faster.
The sheer volume of the action to be covered slows things down. I wondered if some events might have been omitted with no loss to the story. Two and a half hours is a long time for a farce.
The students were obviously having a good time with the production Wednesday night. And the people on hand to watch it were often giggling.
For all the action and lines, the actors seemed confident and calm. They just need to speed things up a bit, since it’s too late to cut the play.
And I must say that being able to see live theater again after so many months is a huge treat. Director Nick Albrecht, his cast and crew are working hard to bring that pleasure back to town.
The play is onstage at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Robert Brown Theater. Viewers will be seated to maintain social distance and wearing masks is required.