Going Dark presents “Puffs” Capital Region Premiere

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It’s always fascinating and sometimes unsettling to discover a culture that exists that you’ve never participated in operating right alongside you and find so many participants pouring their hearts into pursuits that you were only tangentially aware of. I’m sure Capital Region theater is like that for many. Did you know that there are well over 60 active groups producing shows regularly and that there are thousands of participants? Even within our merry tribe, discoveries are there to be made for the itinerant play-goer and with that, I have to shout AHA! Friday night I saw 7 performers who I was unfamiliar with onstage for the first time in Going Dark’s production of the Capital Region premiere of “Puffs or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic” at Albany Barn and I couldn’t be happier to have made this trip.

As you can tell from the title, we are in the wizarding world of Harry Potter or rather the shadow world of fair use of fictional characters somehow avoiding copyright infringement. I was a bookseller when the first Potter book came out and remember it magically disappearing from the shelves when excerpts of Jim Dale’s reading of it were played on NPR back in 1998. I made my way thru “Goblet of Fire” before I put the books down. I say this because some remedial background with the Potter Universe is necessary for understanding “Puffs” and indeed, the better you know the series, the more fun you will have with the show. Fun which the cast has in abundance. The play takes place on a bare stage with props retrieved form an open trunk on the floor but the company’s love, enthusiasm, and fanaticism for their subject is contagious. Regardless of your wizarding level, you will have a good time watching this cast geek out on their fan fiction.

Puffs” is the fourth house at Hogwarts, the school for wizards that Harry attends. They are the also-rans of the school with a deep-seated and not totally undeserved inferiority complex (not unlike the Capital Region or the theater community within it). Harry’s house is Gryffindor whose symbol is a lion, Ravenclaw’s is an eagle, Slytherin’s is a snake and Hufflepuff’s is…a badger. You get the idea. There are many mantras they adopt to bolster their self-esteem because they always come in fourth out of four, they proclaim “Third or nothing!” “We’re all kid of the worst of the school, why not be the worst together?” “Failure’s just another form of practice as long as you keep trying” and “We’re the Mighty Ducks of wizards, no worse, the Mighty Ducks 2 of Wizards!”

The play follows Harry’s adventures in his seven years at Hogwarts but thru a tangential character, in this case Wayne (Chris Muller) from New Mexico has been summoned by his sorting owl. It all reminded me of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Thru the seven years, I recognized events from the books but seen thru a new trio – the unflappable yet perpetually pleased “bro” Wayne and the slowly awakening passionate couple Oliver (Soren Correia) and Megan (Justine Pascual). They are great company and many guest appearances are made, most notably by a hysterically flip and nonchalant Harry (Maghen Ryan) and my favorite of the night-a bravura double casting of a too cool Cedric and a terrifically affected Voldy (Zoe Lewis). I particularly enjoyed Jake Monsees in every role he took on…as Wayne’s nonplussed father, the invisible J. Flinch and the horribly overbearing coach Zach Smith. Carmen Rose who according to her program bio scored the rights to this show also contributed mightily onstage with her quick-change teachers and evil yet easily distracted mother. Matthew Side was coolly commanding as the narrator even in the face of opening night bumps, Alexia Halsey was great fun especially as the French Quidditch contender from “Goblet” and Elyssa Blakeman-McClain lends solid support throughout. The whole cast throw themselves into some wonderful set pieces like a butterbeer (with Land of Lake labels) kegger, a school dance (Horrors!) and a quidditch match. Murr Rose, the director, keeps things moving along very briskly. There are seven years to cover and at 2 ½ hours the show tests the endurance of Muggles.

This is my fourth Going Dark show and I greatly admire their passion and proclivity for choosing projects off-the-beaten-path, pride in presenting this as the Capital Region premiere and I look forward to what they do next. They are also diverse and inclusive, frequently featuring gender-swapped roles and gender nonconforming performers. I am privileged to support this shaggy satirical swipe at the leads in life. As the play concludes, it reminds us “It’s very easy to feel like a secondary character in someone else’s story but we are all the leads in our own life. We’re all important. We’re all unimportant.”

Puffs or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, By Matt Cox
Presented by Going Dark Productions, LLC
Albany Barn
56 2nd St
Albany, NY 12210

Show times:
June 29th @ 2pm & 7pm
July 11th @ 7pm
July 12th @ 7pm
July 13th @ 7pm

Tickets: $15. General, $12. Seniors & Students
Reservations & info email: goingdarkproductions@gmail.com

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