By Catherine Kane, Falls Church High School
Everyone is the main character of their own story. Regardless of chaos, tragedy, or drama in others’ lives, people continue, sometimes invisibly. The play Puffs follows a group of students at a certain school of magic in England. While the most known telling of the school of magic centers on one “chosen boy” who dominates the narrative, little is known about the inner workings of the other “houses” in the school.
The plot centers the students in the Puffs’ house, the name comes from a play on words of the original (and trademarked) name of the house. Broad Run High School in Ashburn put on a production of Puffs.
The play occurs in the same plotline of its original source material, the Harry Potter series, originally written by J.K. Rowling and since adapted into a $25 billion franchise for Warner Brothers. Owls are still carrying mysterious letters of invitation to young wizards, in the Puffs’ case to suburban New Jersey, and evil grown men who are not to be named are still terrorizing adolescents.
The unassuming hero in Puffs is Wayne Hopkins, played by Sarah Jakubowski. Wayne is a happy-go-lucky kid from New Mexico who lived with his uncle, who conveniently happened to not mention to him that he was a wizard (sound familiar?). Much like his alternate storyline counterpart, he is aided in his adventures by two friends, Oliver and Megan. Much like Ron and Hermoine, Oliver and Megan fall in love with each other and leave their hero friend in the dust of unrequited love for younger girls and people who act like little girls (Sally Perks).
Tristan Fishel and Rachael McNutt, who play Oliver and Megan, respectively, gave exemplary performances. Both actors made conscious choices in their reactions and body language that were true to the character and plot. Another stand-out performance came from Austin Lobel, who played the cheeky and self-effacing narrator. He remained a steady presence in the show, popping in every once in a while, to remind the audience that, yes, he is in on the joke too.
The real ‘he-who-is-not-named’ of the Harry Potter movies is the special effects coordinator and CGI artists who put the magic in the “school of magic.” Live theatre is not granted the same conveniences; instead, it relies on the magic that the crew can create. Every off-stage throw, sound cue, and mysterious appearance was masterfully executed. The sound crew, Jaxon Lichtman and Alice McNutt, impeccably hit the mark on every sound effect; the stage crew never broke the spell of objects being summoned via a wand.
A significant number of the scenes in Puffs were directed by two student co-directors, Francesca Fiorello and Anna Koutsouftikis, who coordinated a meticulous battle scene that incorporated rapid entrances and exits, the weaving of performers on stage, and special effects of tying it all together.
In one of the final scenes, the long-bearded headmaster of the school tells Wayne that the most powerful force in the world is not magic; it’s love. Given the hiatus of live theatre due to the pandemic, any theatre lover who sees real people on stage in front of them might just have to agree.
[This review of the Nov. 20 performance of Puffs at Broad Run High School is part of a series published in a partnership between Loudoun Now and The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theater and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]