Review: ‘Puffs: Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic’ by Landless Theatre Company

Ask just about anyone Gen-X and younger and they can (and will, gladly) tell you which House they would be sorted into, if we had the chance to attend a certain school of magic. For those of us who sorted into Hufflepuff, the ridicule directed at us by our friends can feel harsh, just because we’re not particularly brave, bright, or evil. Finally, here is a play for the rest of us!

Harry (Melanie Kurstin) and Adam R. Adkins (Wayne). Photo courtesy of Cole Pictures.
Harry (Melanie Kurstin) and Adam R. Adkins (Wayne) in ‘Puffs.’ Photo courtesy of Cole Pictures.

Puffs: Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, written by Matt Cox and directed by Andrew Lloyd Baughman, tells the story of Wayne Hopkins (Adam R. Adkins), an orphan who suddenly discovers he is actually a wizard when he gets an owl with his invitation to a “Certain School.” Naturally, Wayne thinks he must be very important, and destined for greatness! Unfortunately, Wayne is immediately overshadowed by another famous orphan, Harry Potter (Melanie Kurstin) who joins the school the same year. Once Wayne is sorted into Puffs, he befriends other misfits: nerdy Oliver Rivers (Chris Galindo), and angry goth Megan Jones (Jen Speerstra). The rest of the oddball Puffs are Ernie Mac (Matthew Crawford), Hannah (Jill Vanderweit), J. Finch (Charles W. Johnson), Leanne (Laura J. Martin), Sally Perks (Momo Nakamura), Susie Bones (Melanie Kurstin), and Puffs superstar Cedric (Matt Baughman).

If you’ve read or watched the Harry Potter series, what unfolds is a silly retelling of the events which take place over the course of seven years of education, narrated deftly by David Weinraub.

The best thing about the Puffs script is the absurdity of events from the Puffs’ point of view, and this production highlights this particularly well. The goal for each school year isn’t to win the House cup, but instead to come in third (out of four houses). The triumph that the Puffs feel when they (briefly) succeed in their goal is hilariously paired with their incredulity when the professor awards some late points to another house, bumping the Puffs back to last place.

Leading the charge as Wayne, Adkins sympathetically plays a frustrated kid who hopes to be destined for greatness but who still seems to fall short. Adkins goes from hopeful to increasingly disenfranchised as the years progress without getting too heavy-handed for this lighthearted show.

Like most people in this ensemble play, Melanie Kurstin plays several roles: Harry Potter, Moaning Myrtle, and Susie Bones. Kurstin hilariously blunders through scenes as Harry, often accompanied by Ron and Hermione, presented as mops. When playing Susie Bones, Kurstin switches effortlessly into a terrified girl who is certain that she’s going to be the next to die. Kurstin does a particularly amazing job differentiating her characters with nuanced changes to posture and voice.

My two favorite Puffs are Leanne and J. Finch, played with great enthusiasm by Laura J. Martin and Charles W. Johnson. Martin often exclaims excitedly “We’re wizards!” and flounces about on stage wearing a bright yellow tutu. Martin plays a bubbly but not fully logical Puff with infectious energy. She occasionally declares that J. Finch is her imaginary friend, which does not appear to actually be the case. Charles W. Johnson reacts to “discovering” that he’s not real as well as possible, by first having a full-on existential crisis and then after calming down, realizing that he can go wherever he wants and rushing to sit in the audience.

Voldy (Matt Baughman) and the Ensemble of Puffs. Photo courtesy of Cole Pictures.
Voldy and the Ensemble of Puffs. Photo courtesy of Cole Pictures.

Matt Baughman is perfectly cast for both Cedric and Mr. Voldy. Baughman’s Cedric is equal parts charming and laid back, while still acting as the best possible role model for the younger Puffs. As Voldy, he transforms into a sleazy and somewhat bumbling overlord, a role that further showcases Baughman’s excellent comedic timing.

Puffs is pure fun and a really great way to experience the world of magic in a new and silly way. Make sure you get your tickets online- it’s a small venue with limited (but comfortable!) seating.

Running Time: 2 hours with no intermission

Puffs: Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic plays through March 30, 2019, at DCAC located at 2438 18th Street NW, Washington, DC. Tickets are available online.

Note: Landless Theatre Company is producing Puffs in rep with The Doyle and Debbie Show, reviewed here.