By Jamie Bullins
Puffs, Community Players, Friday, March 24, 2023, 7:30 pm.
I used to be on the faculty at The University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance. It was quite some time ago, but I still have friends there. Puffs was on my radar of upcoming works from back in 2016 when it began in Gainesville and eventually moved to NYC’s Off-Broadway. One of those friends of mine was a producer on the project and he kept me up to date of its progress. I was working in NYC while it was running and didn’t have time to see it. Well, now I do, here in Beatrice, NE. Strange how things work out.
What a refreshing night in the theatre. BCP has rearranged their performance space, so, so many new things. This is new Managing Artistic Director Tyler J. Rinne’s first show at the helm as well. If this is any indication of what we’re in for, kudos, Tyler.
I don’t think you need to be a gigantic Potter nerd to get this story. You will catch up quickly. And I’m not sure that there are that many folks out there that haven’t read one of the books or at least seen one of the films. So, the story is familiar. Now, if you are one of those nerds (I am a medium sized one) who knows the work(s), you’ll be chuckling along right from the start, absolutely no learning curve needed.
It’s a send up of the entire Potter-world, all 7 of the years, as we follow Potter and his friends, some we didn’t even know, and who are the featured here. It’s Wayne, Oliver, and Megan who lead us through the school years, and they are just as intriguing a trio as the one we’re more familiar with.
The writing is clever, the performances brisk and energetic. It’s funny as hell. And, as I suspected, because the University of Florida Department of Theatre and Dance is steeped in improv as a performance style, there’s some of that built right in: you could see it multiple times and see a different show each night. Become a Puffhead, maybe. Though perhaps that name may conjure up something unintended. There’s a surprise guest performer each night and on opening it was Mason Gustafson, who loved to drop the f-bomb. Funny stuff though, funny. BCP notes on their website that the Sunday shows will be purposefully toned down for younger audiences. So, be aware.
The performances were very tongue in cheek, and don’t go expecting Laurence Olivier. It’s a faster, looser style, say, more akin to sketch comedy or Saturday Night Live. The aforementioned trio were pretty fantastic, and we root for them from the opening on. Sterling Johnson leads us through the world and the years as The Narrator and is quite effective as our guide, the stable throughline one might say. Connor Husa turns in a superb double performance as Cedric and Mr. Voldy (he-who-must-not-be-named). It is absolutely amazing what a single piece of Scotch tape can accomplish. The remaining members of the ensemble bounced here and there, filling numerous needs from scene to scene and moment to moment. I mean, it’s just a cast of 14 and there are a lot of characters in these stories. I will say, it may be worth seeing more than once just to meet Bippy the house-elf again. I’m not even 100% sure what happened in those scenes, but I’d like to see them again.
Head down to Beatrice to catch Puffs, maybe you’ll have as good a time as the ladies in the row behind me, they were super into it and having the time of their lives. I couldn’t have ignored that kind of infectious laughter even if I wanted to. I bet the cast would love more audiences like last night. They were eating it up. So, go, enjoy!
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, the theatre here in Nebraska has heart. You remind me consistently that each of you want to be here, on this stage, putting in the work with passion. Thank you, Beatrice Community Players, keep telling your stories.
If you go: You can catch Puffs March 25-26, March 31 – April 2, Fridays/Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online.
Jamie Bullins is on the faculty in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at UNL, since the fall of 2017. He is an Educator, Scenographer, Director, and Playwright and has been at it for almost 30 years now.
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