Saturday was sunny, but chilly in New York, but fortunately I was spending almost six hours in a theater watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the hot ticket of the season. My trip began with a revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, another import from London. Both were in final previews, so I can’t get too specific with my opinions yet, but both are challenging works, densely packed and well performed.
Stoppard’s play hails from 1974, and includes such historical characters as James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and Dada art pioneer Tristan Tzara. But such is Stoppard’s puckish humor that he makes the main character a minor government functionary, Henry Carr. In between his well-researched though fictional plot, Stoppard injects plenty of his cerebral wit and wordplay. Travesties is the opposite of the proverbial show for the tired businessman. Exhilarating, even if much of it is over the audience’s heads.
On the other hand, the Harry Potter plays are probably best received by youngsters who began the habit of reading with the J.K. Rowling series and the numerous film versions. Of course, they or their parents would have to shell out as much as $299 per seat per play, so it is hard to see how the average theatergoer will make this a family outing. Still, there was a youngster, maybe 9 or 10, in my row, who remained engaged with the plays all day long, from 2 pm til 10 pm, with a dinner break.
As befits this tale of the world’s most famous wizarding student, now grown and working at the Ministry of Magic, there is plenty of stage magic in the production, which is necessarily designed in blacks to mask the wires and machinery of the effects. Still, there is plenty to instill awe in the audience. If Potter, Hermione and Ron are your thing — not to mention the dreaded Lord Voldemort — you might as well take out a mortgage loan and come see The Cursed Child on Broadway, because it is hard to see how this massive production will ever tour.
Hap Erstein is on his annual New York tour for ArtsPaper. Follow his tweets @SirHapster.