ASR Theater ~~ ASR Theater. “Puffs”: All Things Harry Potter…Minus The J.K. Rowling

By Joanne Engelhardt

If you’ve never read a Harry Potter book or seen any of the movies based on the books, then how will you understand Puffs, a play written in 2015 by New York-based playwright Mike Cox?

One suggestion: Bring along a 13-year-old to enlighten you.

In any event, the full title of Cox’s play is: Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic.

…much to appreciate here…

Running through July 2 at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, Puffs definitely draws in a youthful demographic, most of whom were likely Potter devotees in their younger years. Frankly, if you haven’t seen the films or read the books, you’ll miss out on most of what’s going on. (A few groups of older patrons were conspicuously absent after intermission.)

Still, there is much to appreciate here. For example: The set is full of spectacular lights, sounds and moving parts, the characters are so darn silly (but likeable), the musical score is amazingly diverse, and the costumes so colorfully imaginative, that there’s plenty to occupy your eyes, ears, and other facial appendages.

Photo by Scott Lasky
Pictured: The Puffs learn of a troll in the dungeons on Halloween in “PUFFS Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic”

Apparently Puffs has no connection whatsoever with J. K. Rowling, so that means it can’t show Harry, Hermione or Ron and can’t mention Hogwarts. How Cox’s play does this is rather ingenious, at least as represented by director Kristin Walter and the PAP production.

Director Walter, a self-proclaimed Harry Potter fan, tackles this somewhat unwieldy script as if it were one triple ice cream sundae. Smart choice to choose Tiffany Nwogu as the narrator because she brings some semblance of normalcy every time she opens one of the doorways and walks onstage to speak. Her colorful dress, created by costume designer Jenny Garcia, helps her stand out from everyone else in the cast.

Photo by Scott Lasky
Pictured: The narrator (Tiffany Nwogu) keeps the story moving in PUFFS at PA Players.

At the center of Cox’s play are three young men who ,mainly because they are new to the school and don’t know anyone, become fast friends. They discover that the “Sorting Hat” (of course! What’s a play without a hat with magical powers?) puts all three of them into the “Puffs” house. None of them want to be a Puff – they were hoping to be “Braves,” “Smarts” or “Snakes – but they eventually accept their fate.

Photo by Scott Lasky
Pictured: Megan Jones (Michelle Skinner) threatens Wanye Hopkins (Will Livingston) and Oliver Rivers (Nicholas Athari) in PUFFS.

In fact, it’s a tale meant for those who rarely get any recognition. None of these characters are a Harry Potter – and never expect to be. But they learn during their seven years at a certain school of magic that friendship is just about the best thing anyone can hope for.

Though none of the cast members are in their teens, the actors do a fine approximation of acting the age of college students. Will Livingston (Wayne), Nicholas Athari (Oliver) and Michelle Skinner as Megan are all excellent in their roles, as is Katie O’Bryon Champlin as Susie Bones and other parts.

The diminutive Champlin brings down the house whenever she walks out on stage wearing a familiar-looking maroon and gold scarf around her neck and carrying two mops – one bright red (representing Ron) and one brown (Hermione).

Photo by Scott Lasky.
Pictured: The Puffs pay their respects when their headmaster dies in PUFFS Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic, the hilarious Off-Broadway hit.

Unfortunately, there is much in this show that will not be familiar without an understanding of the Harry Potter books or movies. Still, there’s both heart and humor for those who do “get” it.

Scenic designer Kevin Davies, assisted by scenic painter Greet Jaspaert, adds a lot of visual interest onstage, most especially the tall faux-stone staircase that gets moved around seamlessly just before someone walks out of a second-story door to walk down to the stage. That requires precision timing – bravo!


Aisle Seat Executive Reviewer Joanne Engelhardt is a Peninsula theatre writer and critic. She is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact:


ProductionPuffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic
Written by Matt Cox
Directed byKristin Walter
Producing CompanyPalo Alto Players
Production DatesThru July 2nd
Production Address1305 Middlefield Road Palo Alto, CA 94301
Telephone(650) 329-0891
Tickets$30– $57
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
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