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Review: PUFFS Provides Hilarious, Filthy Fun at CLO Cabaret

Review: PUFFS Provides Hilarious, Filthy Fun at CLO Cabaret

Harry Potter parody offers family friendly matinees and raunchy evening shows

When I was a college freshman, a little theatre group out of nowhere wrote a Harry Potter parody that propelled their group to Internet meme stardom, launched the career of Darren Criss into the mainstream, and inspired me to become a writer myself. This isn't that show... this is the tighter, funner, better version. This is Puffs by Matt Cox, and if you know what's good for you, you'll take your kids to the clean matinee performances, and then come back alone to the raunchy and hilarious evening show.

As underdog Puffs is to more famous Potter-parody A Very Potter Musical, so are the underdog Huflepuffs to the other three, more prestigious houses at "a certain magical school." As directed in a beautifully chaotic poor-theatre/Starcatcher style by Scott Evans, the show tells the story of the Hufflepuffs attending Hogwards outside of the spotlight during the seven years adjacent to a certain boy wizard of renown. Wayne (Jack Holmes), a nerdy foreign exchange student from America, bonds with his fellow outcasts, losers and also rans like nervous and neurotic Oliver (Jason Shavers at this performance), enthusiastic Leanne (Saige Smith, quickly becoming a welcome Pittsburgh regular) and boisterous J. Finch (Charlie Thomson). Will this be seven years of coming of age, self-discovery and gradual growth? It's Hogwarts during the resurrection of Voldemort, so... no.

I'll admit, I struggle to write much about this show in detail because so many things are delightful low-key surprises. Your favorite characters DO show up, almost always in ways you don't expect, whether it's a grinning, malignant-narcissistic Harry Potter (Kat Harkins) with undertones of barely restrained mayhem, or multiple actors playing alternate versions of the same character (several times even), or Charlie Thomson suddenly sending a chaotic, Matt-Foley-by-the-river incarnation of Mad Eye Moody onto the stage with such comedic savagery that the entire cast wind up cracking up. The central role performances by Holmes, Shavers and Jessie Wray Goodman (playing a Fairuza Balk-like goth with a heart of gold) are solid and well-rounded, to better contrast with the sketch-comedy style of the other quick-change artists in the cast. However, in a show like this where improv and comedic anarchy are sewn into the concept, the supporting players often steal the show; attention must be paid to not only the previously mentioned Kat Harkins, but to Victor Aponte and Greta Kleckner as "every teacher at Hogwarts," plus Michael Greer, as the character you're already wondering about. Yes, he appears; you know who I mean. Greer is a highly physical performer, as his dance-oriented roles at CLO have long proven, and he transfers that same physicality to the slapstick world of low budget Harry Potter.

Scott Evans's physical production is staged on a unit set full of nooks, crannies, hidden tricks and seedy magic. It's a LOT to take in, in the best way, nearly as dense in world building and hidden details as a Disney ride. And like the multimedia-heavy Twenty-Sided Tavern earlier this summer, it's a welcome respite. I'll never say what CLO Cabaret has presented has been formulaic, but it was deeply structured: always small, short, modestly-presented shows with a cast of five that came in under two hours. This summer, they've gotten bigger. They've gotten weirder, more niche, more overtly experimental. And it's been a blast. Here's to much more of the magic of Puffs, of the CLO, and of weird, copyright-skirting oddball theatre in the future. (In fact, how cool would it be to see that high-school-theatre adaptation of Alien that got so much buzz pre-pandemic as Pittsburgh's hippiest cabaret theatre? Hey, a guy can dream...) Bottom line: Potter lover or Potter hater, you'll laugh and smile and surprisingly feel things at this show. Not bad for a grown-up parody of a kid's book series. Whoops, what's that sound- I think I just offended millions of grown Potterheads nationwide with that slip of the tongue. Gotta run!


From This Author - Greg Kerestan

A long-time BWW regular, Greg Kerestan is proud to join the staff of his favorite website. Greg is a graduate of Duquesne University and Seton Hill University, where he studied both theatre and English.... (read more about this author)

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