Being a teenager is hard, and it’s tougher when you have a classmate who regularly goes up against The Dark Lord. Matt Cox, the writer of Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, thought up the idea for the theatrical parody on a train—not unlike a certain author—in 2015. He focused specifically on one idea: “There were all these other kids there who just don’t actually know what’s going on,” he told Paste. “These things were happening to people and kids were dying.”
The concept of Puffs, currently playing at the Elektra Theater, focuses on the conceit that not every person at a Certain School of Magic and Magic (throughout the interview, Cox was careful not to reference the source material by name) is necessarily frontpage-newsworthy. The plot tells a story of a trio—no, not that Trio—of (Huffle)Puffs: American-raised Wayne who wants to be a hero, math whiz Oliver who can hardly perform a single spell correctly, and Megan, the daughter of a Death Eater. The show is about the threesome and their housemates they sort their way through the seven years of a school while a certain Harry Potter, accompanied by a mop named Ron and a wig named Hermione, always seems to be doing something somewhere that somehow has an effect on everybody else.
While other houses at a Certain School have defined traits, Cox’s Puffs makes it clear that being a Brave (Gryffindor) or a Snake (Slytherin) isn’t really all there is to be. “We all have those little moments,” said Cox. “We’re not all defined by a single character trait. There’s a lot more complications in life.” That’s a Puff. (Cox is certainly a Puff. He didn’t think so at first, but online quizzes helped reaffirm his identity.)
According to Cox, once he had the idea for Puffs in September 2015 it was written rather quickly and went into production at The People’s Improv Theater (The PIT) in December. To get the play done in time, things got a bit hectic. “It was in real time,” he recalled. “[The cast] were rehearsing and I’d give them a page and they’d start working on that and I’d give them the next page, which was weird.”
The play is heavy on the humor but also has a few darker moments, some of which have been altered since Puffs first premiered at The PIT. Things have changed significantly from the early days, particularly the show’s dramatic, devastating ending at the Battle for a Certain School. Unlike in Harry Potter, Puffs puts the battle’s deadly toll front and center, but the show’s original ending was a little lighter. The alteration to the darker finale was Cox’s take on Puffs representing the every man who doesn’t necessarily get a Hollywood ending. “You kinda go in thinking it’s a parody and then having this existential moment.”
Puffs, while filled with comical moments (Zach Smith’s nightly improv routine is definitely filled with hilarity), is big on making the audience think. The plot itself is a “what if” story that straddles the line between fanfiction and an original work. “It’s not really playing with the characters of the books. They’re on their own tracks in different places,” said Cox. “We place our characters in their world.”
And a few characters from other worlds also appear: Cox admitted one of his favorite moments is when Puffs’ Viktor Krum in Year Four only uses the dialogue of Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. “I think it’s stupid and people don’t really notice it but I think it’s really funny,” he explained amidst laughter. “The Potter and the Rocky communities aren’t quite the same, and that’s okay.”
Cox assures Paste that it’s in its final version. “There’s a few little moments that the cast will change but since October of last year, since we opened this [version] is Puffs.”
And Harry Potter isn’t the only work from a certain universe that Cox and the Puffs cast has explored. Early this year, following the release of a certain play and film, they hosted special shows of Nineteen Years Later Or; There And Back Again: A Puffs Tale Parts 1 & 3 and Dude, Where’s My Fantastic Beast? Or; 30 Short Films About Magical New York In 1926 When a Puff Came for a Quick Visit and the Disaster that Followed (Film 1 of 5).
There’s no end in sight for Puffs’ current run, Cox is already moving on to new projects. Along with a western-inspired show, he is working book of Bunkerville: A Post-Apocalyptic Musical.
Puffs is performed multiple times every weekend at the Elektra Theater. Tickets are currently on sale here for shows through late July.