I spent 45 minutes looking for my wallet the other night, only to realize that it had been right on top of my dresser the whole time. Once I was finally out the door, I wound up entangled in an awkward conversation with an increasingly vexed neighbor, desperate to break free promptly—I was running very late, thanks to the wallet thing—but not so promptly as to be deemed rude. Same deal re: chitchat with the cashier at my local coffee shop. I should note that it was mere moments before I dropped said coffee while running to catch my train—I was far behind schedule, thanks to two overlong fits of small-talk and, again, the wallet thing—which I indeed missed, thus giving me ample time to sop up the mess of spilled coffee I’d left on the subway platform, to middling success.
In other words, I am a Hufflepuff.
That’s not a statement you usually hear declared with great enthusiasm. In fact, I’ve witnessed many friends and colleagues reject classification under the ‘puff umbrella with shame and disgust, asserting their rightful designations elsewhere—most often Gryffindor. (Though let’s be honest, how many actual Gryffindors do you know? I know maybe five.) But here and now, I am imbued with nothing but pride over belonging to the badger cete, thanks largely to the Free to Be… You and Me equivalent of the Harry Potter extended universe: Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic.
The stage play, currently running Off-Broadway at the intimate Elektra Theater on 43rd Street in Manhattan (and, I should clarify, the very destination that I paraded through the above vignette of excruciating incompetence to reach), follows the same seven-year span that accompanied Harry Potter through his tenure at Hogwarts. All the same adventures, calamities, triumphs, woes, and sudden episodes of hypersexualization are accounted for, though this time from the vantage point of a different subset of Hogwarts students: the Hufflepuffs. Better still, the Hufflepuffiest Hufflepuffs you can imagine.
We stick closest to American-raised Wayne, a good-natured schlub short on any discernible physical or intellectual strengths, whose only real aspiration is to be… well, somebody. The nebulous nature of Wayne’s character makes him such a terrific stand-in for Potter in Puffs, benefiting both the play’s chief priority—its irreverent and wholly un-self-serious sense of humor—and its central principle that some people are just… well, not that kind of somebody.
Through its tireless adherence to Harry Potter canon references and, more energetically, send-ups, Puffs manages this unlikely duality. It never goes more than a minute without a laugh, mining its humor from meta jokes, impressive physical gags, and its characters’ charming ineptitude. Especially powerful purveyors of humor include the show’s sardonic narrator, its cloying interpretation of the Boy Who Lived himself, and—my absolute favorite—the magnificently swagger-laden Cedric Diggory.
But that’s not to say there’s a sour spot among the troupe. Right beside Wayne throughout his time at school are pals Oliver, a would-be Ravenclaw whose academic acuity is overshadowed only by his gawkiness, and Megan, a Slytherin wannabe who lacks the most feared house’s bona fide killer instinct. All three of Puffs’ main players commit more than you’ll expect to its delivery of heart. Stunningly enough, through layers of outlandishly silly and self-effacing comedy, Puffs manages a message that’ll actually cut to the core for anyone who’s ever felt like… well, nobody.
As surprised as I was by how much I laughed at Puffs, I was all the more surprised at how it actually moved me. Unlike most pieces of pop culture that avow devotion to the average joe, the little guy, the nobody, Puffs never undercuts its message. Instead of opting to aggrandize its take on the lucky schmoe who dared to dream big, it keeps true to the dictum that every Hufflepuff knows, though needs reminder of every once in a while. It isn’t about becoming what we’re not, it’s about learning to like what we are.
…which is why I’m not going to get too down on myself for the fact that I can’t find my goddamn wallet again.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Images: Hunter Canning
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor for Nerdist. Find him on Twitter, if he hasn’t accidentally left his laptop on the subway and dropped his phone down a sewer grate, at @MichaelArbeiter.