‘Puffs’ Weaves Spell at YSU

By J.E.Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Youngstown State University’s Theater Department offered up its final production of the current season Friday night. “Puffs or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years At a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” by Matt Cox, is a comedic retelling of the Harry Potter book series which found popularity via the various films made from the books by J.K. Rowling. Once you get past the title, the show pokes satiric fun at almost everything Harry Potter.

If you are a big Harry Potter fan, you will most assuredly latch on to every joke and every line that is derived from the famous series. But you don’t really have to be a Potter fan to still enjoy the show and the lively energetic cast.

Even while sitting in your seat and waiting for the show to begin, the audience is beguiled by a fleeting star zig-zagging across the set at intervals and leaving a stardust trail – similar to when Tinkerbell appeared in the cartoon version of “Peter Pan” during Disney’s more memorable years. That one little star helps set the mood for the entire evening.

The play’s main character, Wayne, receives a letter delivered by an owl inviting him to a school of magic. He henceforth discovers that he is a wizard and his next stop is a sorting ceremony at the school where students are sorted into various categories.

Wayne ends up in the Puffs. As the audience soon realizes, the show doesn’t follow Wayne so much as it does the Puffs – a group of outcasts that are looked down upon by everyone at the school. They never finish high in any points (for good behavior) thus compelling them to shoot for “third” and their battle cry, “Third or nothing.”

Adian Holderfield gives a strong performance as the nerdy backward Wayne. He is small in stature which helps in the believability of the character. His portrayal has many layers as he goes through the seven years that are presented during his time at the school. His energy is high and he becomes a champion of the Puff’s cause.

He befriends two other Puffs upon his arrival who become his best friends at the school. Oliver, played by Nicholas Figiel, and Megan, played by Amberlynn Zuccarell. Both Figiel and Zuccarell are stand out performers and play off of Holderfield very well. Zuccarell in particular does a great job with Megan who claims that she ended up in the Puffs by mistake and creates a rather pessimistic outlook.

Of notable mention is Mitchell Sharp who serves as the Narrator of the piece and helps to move the story along from scene to scene with some great comic timing The only downside to his performance was that the character’s accent sometimes obscured his lines. Sharp also shows up a little later in the show as a pivotal character.

The cast in this laugh-a-minute extravaganza only numbers 11 actors but they portray close to 60 characters. The dialogue is rapid fire and the entrances and exits are as fast as a lightning bolt from the sky. At times it was very reminiscent of the old Benny Hill television show where characters entered, said a line, and were gone in a flash.

Everybody in the show gets high marks for the high energy and concentration required to pull this show off. It’s one of those shows where you don’t have time to think, you just have to know it and do it.

Some other performances of note were Dalton Dykes as Uncle Dave and A Fat Friar, Cyrus Dzikoski as Cedric and Mr. Voldy, and Mallory Ehrhart as Xavia Jones. Keep in mind all of these actors had numerous other roles as well. It is tough picking out everyone as the action moved so fast and they were in and out so quickly, many with just a line or two. But the entire cast deserved the overwhelming standing ovation at the end.

The production was directed by Todd Dicken and a formidable challenge he had with this production. Just to make any sense out of the whirlwind on stage is a job enough for any director but to pull it all together into a cohesive production requires special talent. Dicken also served as the scenic designer and prop master.

Scenery wise, Dicken made a wise choice – simplicity. The set is comprised of eight panels at various angles across the stage with two at up center serving as sliding panels from which entrances were made. Graphics were then projected onto the panels to suggest locations. It all worked very well.

Lighting by James Oakry added an additional layer that helped create atmosphere and segmented some scenes well across the large stage. Particularly effective were his light designs for entrances made from the up center panels. Oakry was also responsible for the set graphics.

Costume design was by Katherine Garlick and made good use of color and imagination. As actors were on and off so fast, only the addition of a single garment or headpiece made for an effective character change.

“Puffs” is a very different type of show. But if you are a Harry Potter fan and you are looking for an evening of endless laughter, then stop by the Ford Theatre at Youngstown State University, you’ll be glad you did.

“Puffs” will continue April 2, 8, 9 at 7:30 p.m. April 3, 10 at 2 p.m.

Pictured: Amberlynn Zuccarell, Nicholas Figiel and Aidan Holderfield play student wizards in University Theatre’s production of “Puffs.” (Photo courtesy of YSU)

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