“Puffs” Brings Magic, Mayhem to the Black Box Stage

What if The Boy Who Lived wasn’t Harry Potter, scion of a famous wizarding family, but Wayne Hopkins, an ordinary ’90s teen raised by his Uncle Dave in New Mexico?

His story might have resembled the plot line of “Puffs,” the Nonesuch Players’ fall production, mounted this week in the Black Box Theater on campus.
The show is a madcap, affectionate satire of all things Potter. Hogwarts in-jokes abound, but—as performed by adept cast members who take on multiple roles with aplomb—you don’t have to be a dedicated Potterphile to enjoy the play’s slapstick humor and clever wordplay.

English and drama teacher Juliet Bailey, who directed the show, said of the cast that “the kids are just on point. This kind of show has to be fast and furious; if there’s any lag, it throws off momentum.”

In a Wednesday afternoon performance for teachers and other adults in the campus community, there were no lags to be seen. Finn McCusker ’22 tackled the role of Wayne, an endearing everyteen with an impressive wardrobe of period nerd T-shirts. Wayne’s best friends and sidekicks were skillfully played by Adrienne Correia ’22 and Adebiyi Oyaronbi ’21. Upon their arrival at “a certain school of magic and magic,” they are sorted (by a hat, of course) into the Puffs, a house that strongly resembles the Hufflepuffs of Potterdom and is similarly considered the nondescript loser among the school’s four houses. As an emblem of their own low expectations, the Puffs’ greatest ambition is to finish third, not fourth, in the annual house cup competition.

As the characters race through what the play’s subtitle aptly terms “seven increasingly eventful years,” the familiar episodes of the Potter series are viewed through the lens of the Puffs and their sometimes peripheral role in those episodes. By the end of the show, the sinister Mr. Voldy has been defeated and life lessons have been learned: The Puffs may fail frequently, but, as Wayne notes, there is (or should be) no shame in failure. “Failure is just another form of practice,” he points out.

Although the cast numbers 19—“the largest we’ve had in the Black Box in some time,” says Bailey—the play’s many roles mean that most actors appear in two, three, four, or more guises, adding to the hilarity. A simple set evokes the less-desirable precincts of the magic castle (“near the kitchen”), home to the Puffs, and provides the necessary doors for multiple, fast-paced exits and entrances. This was the first Black Box show with the theater’s new sound system, which Bailey says was a valuable upgrade to the space and the production.

Bailey says she chose the show in part to counterbalance last year’s more serious fall play, “Our Town.” “I love directing physical comedy,” she says, adding, “I knew I had some kids who could do comedy, and it’s just so fun. You just laugh all day when you direct a comedy.”

She hopes it will have a similar effect on audiences. “If you want a good laugh in dark times, see this show. It’s nice to escape the craziness of the world with the craziness of Hogwarts.”

To view our SmugMug gallery of photos from "Puffs," click here