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STC’s ‘Puffs’ makes theatre magic

February 26, 2020
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STC’s ‘Puffs’ makes theatre magic (photo courtesy Some Theatre Company)

BANGOR – Have you ever wanted to spend some time at a very special and VERY famous school of magic? Well, thanks to Some Theatre Company, now you can.

Sort of.

STC is presenting “Puffs: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” running through March 1. This show – written by Matt Cox and directed by company artistic director Elaine Bard – marks the company’s first-ever production at their brand-new space in the Bangor Mall.

Fans of a certain boy wizard might have occasionally asked themselves about some of the other students at this legendary school. We spent seven books (and eight movies and a stage play and so on) following him and his friends; what do you suppose was going on with the students who maybe weren’t so talented or popular? Every school has regular, average kids – even schools of magic.

That’s what you get with “Puffs.” It’s a chance to spend some time with the also-rans of the magical realm, the uncool kids who just want to get by, kids who are simply looking to get through school without having to deal with the horrifying mystic dangers that lurk around seemingly every corner. These are kids who are very aware of the magical hierarchy … and of their low place in it.

(Since you might be wondering what the deal is, the following disclaimer is featured on the “Puffs” website: “Puffs is a stage play written by Matt Cox as a transformative & transfigured work under the magic that is US Fair Use laws. Puffs is not authorised, sanctioned, licensed or endorsed by J.K Rowling, Warner Bros. or any person or company associated with the Harry Potter books, films or play.”)

Wayne Hopkins (Jake Sherburne) is a goofy regular kid living in New Mexico with his uncle following the accidental death of his parents. His entire world is turned upside down with the arrival of a letter informing him that he has been accepted as a student at a prestigious school of magic.

(Some of this probably sounds familiar.)

He heads off to England and enrolls in school. First things first, he has to be placed in one of the school’s four houses – Brave, Smart, Snake or Puff. The first two are self-explanatory, while the Snake house is reserved largely for a-holes. The rest … are Puffs.

You can probably guess where Wayne ends up.

The rest of the Puffs are a motley crew, a bunch of sweet-tempered and vaguely dim kids. There’s Leanne (Becky Adams) and Ernie (Quinn Bard), Sally Perks (Katy England) and Susie Bones (Tamara Hembree). There’s Hannah (Lizz Cousins) and J. Finch Fletchley (Brandon Clark) and the one they all look up to – Cedric (Logan Bard).

Wayne befriends them all, but his closest pals turn out to be Oliver Rivers (Thomas Sanborn) and Megan Jones (Silvia Baxter). Oliver is an American math prodigy who discovers that magic doesn’t come nearly so easily, while Megan resents her Puff label and dreams of the time when her evil mother will break out of Wiz Priz and whisk her away to a life of magical mayhem.

And that’s that. With the help of our charming and erudite narrator (Jessica Weiner), we follow this incoming class of Puffs through seven increasingly eventful (and dangerous) years at the legendary school. All the big happenings – basilisks and imposter teachers and wizard tournaments and one bad wizard whose name we don’t say – take place, but we’re not in the center of the action. We’re on the periphery, watching these misfit magicians do their best.

Wayne believes himself destined to be someone world-changingly important, but it isn’t easy becoming a hero when you’re operating in the margins of someone else’s story. But here’s the thing: there’s more than one way to be special.

Anyone familiar with the Potterverse is going to find a lot to laugh at with “Puffs.” The script treats its source material with just the right blend of reverence and subversion, using the tropes and traditions of Rowling’s work to create a collection of endearing weirdos. The jokes come fast and furious, never lingering too long and maintaining a breakneck pace. However, there’s also a good deal of genuine feeling here as well – we’ve all known what it’s like to not fit in, after all. It’s a humor/heart combo plate that is shaggy and goofy and clever and very sweet.

As per usual, Bard wears a number of different hats, handling design duties – scenic, lighting and costume – as well as directing. Her vision drives the show, much as it drives STC. She’s never been afraid to make quirky programming choices and building them into what she wants them to be. These sorts of strange, offbeat shows have become a company trademark. Her fingerprints are all over this show – and that’s a good thing. Production-wise, it’s well-realized.

(Also, it should be noted that the turnaround in getting this new space show-ready is frankly astonishing. You’d never know that they’ve been there for less than three months.)

The ensemble charged with bringing “Puffs” to life is energetic and enthusiastic, brimming with positivity and palpably excited to be there. That sort of across-the-board joyfulness is fun to watch. As erstwhile hero Wayne, Sherburne captures a wonderful aw-shucks quality that offsets his earnest ambition nicely. He’s a real charmer. So too is Baxter as the wannabe bad girl Megan; it’s a portrait of a young woman who reflexively denies her own vulnerability in service to the person she thinks she’s supposed to be. She’s sweet despite herself. Sanborn sets the right tone as Oliver, capturing the bumbling appeal of the tryhard who can’t grasp failure. It’s a trio with great chemistry.

Weiner is excellent as the narrator. She keeps a firm hand on the wheel as she guides us through the seven years while also effortlessly landing joke after joke. It’s a role that could have been either forced or forgettable – instead, it’s fantastic. Logan Bard exudes clueless self-confidence as Cedric; he’s the exact sort of amiable dim bulb that a Puff would admire.

And the rest of the ensemble … is everyone else. Adams gives us the sweetly naïve Leanne and Clark handles the third-person-referring Fletchley, while England plays Sally as the most cheerfully self-identifying background player ever and Cousins makes Hannah perhaps the Puffiest of Puffs. But that’s not all they do – someone has to play the notables that you remember from the books, including the central trio (Hembree plays Harry, for instance, while Hermione and Ron, well … you should just see it). Of particular note is Quinn Bard, whose Snape literally never stopped being funny, but so many of them hold down multiple roles to help bring this world to life.

Anyone who loves Harry Potter will likely love this show, but even if you have only a passing familiarity with the wizarding world, you’ll almost certainly have a good time. In short, “Puffs” is an evening of theatre magic.

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 February 2020 08:04

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