Lake Braddock Secondary School
When envisioning a hero, one may picture a courageous gladiator, a sharp-witted professor, or a cunning sorcerer. But can a hero be someone who is exceptionally unremarkable? Fairfax High School's production of "Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic" suggests a band of ordinary outsiders striving for greatness, the Puffs, can be just as rewarding.
Matt Cox's comical and heartwarming "Puffs" ran Off-Broadway from 2016 to 2019, accumulating critical acclaim and dedicated fans. The show takes an internationally known story and flips it on its head, pushing established characters to the back and shining the spotlight on the Puffs, a group of underdogs who learn their failures are what makes them each uniquely valuable. Persistent dangers place our characters in troubling circumstances, forcing them to rely on the strengths they possess.
The performance centered on Hank Hawkins' portrayal of Wayne Hopkins, a timid, shaky, and, at times, foolish wizard. Hawkins was brilliant in the role, offering a relatable character for whom the audience constantly rooted throughout the show. Small details in his performance, such as a consistent quiver in his voice, were noticeable, creating an engaging hero for the show. Madeleine Tyler, playing Megan Jones, similarly excelled in conveying the different facets of her character. As she grew less hostile, her vocal tone and physicality shifted to match.
Central to the production were the titular Puffs, a tight-knit, lively ensemble, each performing with a distinctive quality setting them apart from others. Trevor Sloan depicted Oliver Rivers, Wayne's best friend, with a spellbinding and distinguishable difference between his intellectual roots in the beginning to his confidence near the ending. Guiding the Puffs was Logan Baker who played the supportive Cedric during Act I and the extravagant Voldy in Act II. Baker quite effectively showed the juxtaposition of his characters with considerable range. Isabella Jackson, performing as Leanne, the bubbly and lighthearted foil to Megan, displayed an incredibly engaging performance every time she entered. Additionally, Daniel Todd, the Narrator, became a calming presence with whom the audience felt comfortable anytime he appeared.
In addition to acting, "Puffs" demanded substantial technical support. Fairfax High School's technical crew met this challenge with clear commitment. Isabella Heffron designed a multi-tiered set which stretched the entire length of the stage. Numerous entrances helped actors appear in fresh and unpredictable ways. The inclusion of a second level offered distinct positions for actors and captivated the audience. The lighting department, led by Timothy Farmer, built on each scene with specific lighting choices, such as bright red lights moving around, indicating danger, reflecting the emotions conveyed at each moment. The costumes, which Maeve Donohue produced, showed appreciation for the individuality of each character and introduced a specific aspect of each of their personalities.
Formidable acting, witty humor, and incredible stagecraft built an entertaining performance that held the show's values close. Fairfax High School assembled their production with diligence, perseverance, and dedication, which, after viewing the show, the audience has learned is at the core of what makes a person a Puff.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Spinning lights. Magical spells. Perfectly timed quips. And amidst it all, a young wizard boy begins his journey. But not the boy of whom you are thinking. View the wizarding world through a different lens with Fairfax High School's spellbinding production of "Puffs."
A retelling of the Harry Potter series, Matt Cox's 2015 play, "Puffs," takes audiences through "seven increasingly eventful years at a certain school of magic and magic," this time with a different trio in focus. Puffs follows Wayne, Oliver, and Megan, three entirely unexceptional students, as they navigate wizard school in the shadow of "the boy who lived" and, in the process, redefine what it means to be a hero.
While performing an already well-established story may seem intimidating, the cast and crew of Fairfax High School's Puffs readily accepted the challenge. The energy and commitment brought by every member of the 38-person cast gave the ensemble both unity and individuality, creating a cast of characters which kept the audience intrigued until the final curtain.
The actors who portrayed Wayne, Oliver, and Megan committed fully to the emotions demanded by their roles, creating a trio of characters who felt raw and genuine. Hank Hawkins, as Wayne, possessed a frantic enthusiasm that was well contrasted by Trevor Sloan's reserved, cautious Oliver. Differences between Sloan's more even tone of voice and restricted movement and Hawkins' louder energy made each character distinct without compromising the social awkwardness uniting them. Sloan and Madeleine Tyler (Megan) executed the show's primary romance with just the right amounts of uncertainty and teenage angst, giving the audience a heart-warming couple to support.
As the Narrator, Daniel Todd walked the line between audience and performer with a captivating grace. His commanding stage presence and deadpan comedic delivery brought life and personality to the role. During the performance, his seamless use of improvisation and audience interaction helped to bridge the gap between the audience and the story unfolding before them. Whether entering from the audience to run onstage with the uffs as Cedric, or demanding Potter's sacrifice through a megaphone as Voldy, each of Logan Baker's entrances resulted in roaring laughter. But when act one neared its end, he portrayed Cedric's final interactions with his fellow Puffs using an intensity that captivated the audience until the very end.
Seamless cues tied the production together and ensured that no audience member felt removed from the magic. The lighting, executed by Timothy Farmer and Charlotte Bronaugh, used a wide array of shapes, patterns, motions, and colors to create everything from the mysterious Mirror of Erised to the watery depths of the Prefect's Bathtub. From the faint rattling of chains during binding spells to the humorously low-pitched wailing of the Triwizard Egg, Bronaugh, along with Elijah Caires, pulled or created a plethora of sound cues which added to the show's authenticity. Together, these two departments cleverly accentuated the show's comedic nature, while also charming the audience with what felt like genuine magic.
Anchored by technical and performance aspects that infused the heavy comedy with emotion and sincerity, Fairfax High School's Puffs not only left the audience in stitches, but with a new perspective on what it means to be a protagonist.