Dallas — Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic opened propitiously off-Broadway two years ago, just about the time Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered on Broadway. Cursed Child, fueled by long lines of hungry Potterphiles who thrive on this wildly popular fantasy written for middle school children, continues to sell out all shows, while the affordable parody Puffs closed last August.
Ah! But fear not. Imprint Theatreworks starts the new year — and their third season — with an energetic, if longish, production of Puffs, co-directed by company Artistic Director Ashley H. White and Kyle Igneczi, who also created the clever puppet heads topping costume designer Jessie Wallace’s happy ragtag outfits and string mop wigs.
None of the brilliant magicians or warriors or super-rich kids are attending the Puffs House of a Certain School. (Everybody’s super careful not to use a trademarked name. Even the website notes: “Puffs is not authorized, sanctioned, licensed or endorsed by J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros. or any person or company associated with the Harry Potter books, films or play.” Read: no magic is bigger that a patent in U.S. Fair Use Laws. Don’t even think about it.)
Harry folks quickly figure out where to sit, because set designer Aaron White’s color-coded banners representing the four houses at the parodied school of witchcraft and wizardry hang behind each quadrant of the theater in the round stage at Stomping Ground Comedy Theater. You know: the brave, the smart, the slithery — and the Puffs.
Puffs students are the also-rans who applied to Hogwarts (never actually named here), but got tossed via the Sorting Hat (yep) to a meeting space between the kitchen and basement. The hero is no mystically gifted Harry, but a sweet schlub named Wayne Hopkins (Nick Haley in good-boy-sit mode), from a New Mexico ranch whose uncle got the screech from an owl to send Wayne to a wizard school, pronto.
Other young misfits include Wayne’s best pal, math-whiz Oliver River (funny Damian Gomez), and Megan Jones (perpetually pouty, dark-eyed Savannah Elayyach), whose witchy mom threatens to kill people and other awful stuff, but can’t get her wand to work when evil is called for.
The dozen busy cast members play not only other dweeby students of the Puff persuasion, but everybody they crash into in this fast-paced, sketch-style show, hitting the high points of the seven Potter books. A calm, clearly knowledgeable narrator (a bemused, smiling Madeleine Morris) steps in between scenes to keep us all on the same page, as characters shift brooms and change wigs. Cox’s scriptwriting doesn’t have the bite of a parody like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but then Harry is no Hamlet. Still, the actors are in it up to the hilt of their light swords and deliver every joke and pratfall with stumbling dedication.
Alli Franken is a goofy dingbat who locks her long legs around bashful Wayne on Puff prom night and shows him what magic two colliding bodies can conjure. Micah JL Brooks, eyes blazing, is an endearing hoot as charismatic Cedric, the Puff who cheers on his shy classmates in unmatched socks. Aim high for third place! Fred Rogers would love Cedric’s smiling, inclusive style.
The fun is in mocking the famed Hogwarts tournaments, including learning to fly on broomsticks, all terribly tacky aluminum industrial brooms. Nobody here is good at sports.
After a long galloping finale of wand fencing and bounding battles over, on and around the small stage, our hapless young Puffs confirm what fearless Cedric said all along, “Failure is awesome.” They’ve also learned some other life stuff about community and loyalty and the dumb idea of plopping every kid in a categorical house right off the broom through a hat trick. Who needs that kind of magic?
Puffs is made to appeal to Harry buffs. Adult fans only. The f-word and some goofy sex jokes went right by my 12-year-old expert guest, who otherwise pronounced the production “pretty funny,” but “a little too long.” I agree. Two-and-a-half hours, including a 15-minute intermission, is too long to tell a joke. Even a charming one, riffing on the glossy, partially immortal Harry Potter.