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A&E >  Entertainment

New ‘Harry Potter’: Play a satisfying follow-up to Rowling’s famed series

The Palace Theatre in central London  is showing a stage production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” The production is sold out through mid-2017. (Joel Ryan / AP)
The Palace Theatre in central London is showing a stage production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” The production is sold out through mid-2017. (Joel Ryan / AP)
By Carol Memmott Chicago Tribune

During a 2007 interview in an Edinburgh hotel room, J.K. Rowling said the publication of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” marked the end of her phenomenally successful seven-book series about the boy wizard.

“Of course I won’t write anything as popular as this again,” Rowling said. “But I have truthfully known that since 1999, when the thing began to become a little bit insane.”

In many ways Pottermania is still with us, but Rowling has kept her word and hasn’t written any more Potter novels. She has, however, continued writing about the Potter universe, and she regularly posts new stories and endless minutiae about Harry’s world on Pottermore, her all-things-Potter website. The book series spawned eight movies; theme parks have opened or are in development; and the stage play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” debuted in London in late July. Tickets to that show are rarer than a sorcerer’s stone – it’s sold out through mid-2017 – so this “Special Rehearsal Edition Script” was released last weekend with almost as much fanfare as the seven-book series.

Reviewing a script is nothing like reviewing a novel. The book jacket touts “Cursed Child” as “The eighth story. Nineteen years later.” The play is based on an original story written by Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and the play’s director, John Tiffany. Like any script, it is dialogue driven, and this edition offers limited stage direction details. But once you begin reading, your imagination fills in the background, the stage set and the characters’ physical appearance and voices. Our imaginations may not be enough to evoke the dazzling special effects the stage version is being celebrated for, but Potters fans will slide quite easily into this beloved and familiar world.

“Cursed Child” opens, most fittingly, at King’s Cross Station, the location of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Harry, now 37, and wife, Ginny Weasley, are waiting with sons Albus Severus – named for two famous Hogwarts headmasters – and James. Albus and James are ready to board the Hogwarts Express, which will take them to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that their parents attended. At the station we see other old friends. Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are waiting with their daughter Rose, and Draco Malfoy, always a thorn in Harry’s side, is waiting with his son Scorpius.

More than anything, “Cursed Child” is about the relationships between fathers and their children. Sadly, we see, poor Harry may be cursed forever by the trauma of losing his parents to the dark wizard Lord Voldemort who also tried to kill Harry when he was a baby. And Harry’s fears for Albus’ wellbeing cause confrontations fraught with anger between this father and son. In one scene, Harry and Albus say the worst things a father and child can say: “I just wish you weren’t my dad,” Albus says. Harry responds, “There are times I wish you weren’t my son.”

So Harry may be the title’s cursed child, and so could Albus, who wonders how he can live up to his father’s accomplishments. Scorpius also feels cursed. He’s lost his mother and can’t tamp down dangerous rumors about his ancestry. All the characters feel cursed when intelligence reports signal “the possibility that Voldemort – or some trace of Voldemort – might be back.” The lightning bolt scar on Harry’s forehead even is beginning to hurt.

Because play attendees are given buttons saying “#KeepTheSecrets,” we’ll share no details of the cursed child who could destroy the world that was saved at the “Battle of Hogwarts,” in which Voldemort was vanquished.

Other problems surface. Albus overhears Amos Diggory, the father of Cedric Diggory, a boy killed in Harry’s stead in the series, pleading for Harry to bring his son back from the dead. Amos believes Harry has a “Time-Turner” that could send someone back in time to save Cedric. This plot device is one of the ways “Cursed Child” allows us to revisit numerous scenes from the Potter past: the day that Harry’s parents died, Harry’s miserable childhood with the Dursleys, the Triwizard Tournament that led to Cedric’s demise, and an enchantingly funny scene starring Albus, Scorpius and a new character that is a delightful nod to a trip to the Ministry of Magic in “Deathly Hallows.” Scenes set in the present are equally entrancing and welcome additions to the Potter canon.

The stage play is more than five hours long. The script takes less time to read. “Cursed Child” is a most satisfying and well-done follow-up to “Deathly Hallows.” It’s beautifully written and achieves Shakespearean levels of drama as it delves into the past’s hold on the present, the power of familial love, the importance of friendship and the healing power of forgiveness.

In a press conference tied to the play’s premiere, Rowling said “Cursed Child” wraps up the Potter story. “Harry is done now,” she said. But Harry’s not even 40 in “Cursed Child.” Perhaps a potion will be discovered at Hogwarts that will cause her to bring him back again.

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