Friday, September 5, 2014

Indian Ink ***

It took almost 20 years to get here, but Tom Stoppard’s 1995 play (based on his 1991 radio play “In the Native State”) has finally reached New York in a first-rate production by Roundabout at the Laura Pels Theatre. One can speculate on the reasons it took so long — its large cast (15), its relative lack of the playwright’s customary intellectual showmanship, and its appearance between the flashier “Arcadia” and “The Invention of Love.” In any case, we should be glad it has at last arrived. The central character is Flora Crewe (a fine Romola Garai), a free-spirited young British woman whose erotic poetry has caused a bit of a scandal and who has gone to India early in 1930. Her alleged purpose is to give a lecture tour about the British literary world, but actually she has traveled for health reasons. While in Jummapur, she meets an Indian artist Nirad Das (Firdous Bamji,) who paints her portrait, and is wooed by a British colonial functionary David Durance (Lee Aaron Rosen). Shortly after leaving Jummapur for the Indian highlands, she dies. Although her work was scorned in her lifetime, 50 years later she has become all the rage. Her younger sister Eleanor (the always wonderful Rosemary Harris), now in her late sixties, is visited by an American professor Eldon Pike (Neal Huff) who is publishing her collected letters and is far more interested in unimportant details than in the truth. She is also visited by Anish Das (Bhavesh Patel), the painter’s son, who is trying to discover what transpired between Flora and his father. The action alternates between India in the early 1930s and England and India in the 1980s. Sometimes characters from both time periods are onstage at the same time, but there is no possibility of confusion. The play touches upon contrasting aesthetic traditions, the common bond that art provides and some of the effects of imperialism. The pace is unhurried, but if you are patient you should find the emotional payoff in the final scenes gratifying. The supporting cast is excellent. Neil Patel’s set design and Candice Donnelly’s costumes are attractively effective. Carey Perloff’s direction is straightforward and uncluttered. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes including intermission. NOTE: There is a brief moment of full frontal female nudity.

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