A bit of British imperialism is on view at the Laura Pels Theatre in what started out as a Tom Stoppard “clash of cultures” radio play in 1991 “In the Native State” that morphed into the retitled 1995 production of INDIAN INK that is now being presented by The Roundabout Theatre. It is long on rhetoric and short on “RASA” – the “it” factor that makes a creative work “pulse.” After all it is Tom Stoppard who seldom knows when to stop.
It’s a lethargic, complex period, period piece that is set simultaneously in Jummapur India (1930) and England and India fifty years later where Eleanor Swan (the indomitable Rosemary Harris) reminisces over the letters of her older sister Flora Crewe (a fine and refined Romola Garai) – a scandalous poet with a raunchy past when she traveled to India in 1930 for health reasons.
Or was she also looking for an excuse for another romantic adventure – this time with the shy and nervous Indian artist who loves everything British – Nirad Das (an excellent Firdous Bamji) who paints her portrait while she flirts and writes looking ravishing in her frocks designed by Candice Donnelly?
Eldon Pike (Neal Huff) is digging around for information that he wants to include in a biography of Flora – he is obsessed with her – after the publication of her poems and letters. Her sister isn’t too keen on supplying any further information. Or does she not know the truth? INDIAN INK is in part about how we perceive the people we think we know.
The son of the artist, Anish Das (a fine Bhavesh Patel) also shows up at Eleanor’s doorstep. The plot thickens like the fog in London as we go back and forth with characters from both eras on stage together – it’s a fine job of keeping the traffic moving that director Carey Perloff pulls off superbly.
She is aided greatly by the unit set of Neil Patel and the beautiful lighting of Robert Wierzel.
The ensemble cast is spot on but do we really need that scene at the British Club that opens Act II – prolonging the almost three hour romantic excursion of Flora with the most dapper and more English than English Lee Aaron Rosen as David Durance of the gin and polo set?
Assisting Mr. Pike in his quest for the real Flora is Nick Choksi as Dilip – who reenergizes the stage and longwinded second act that almost derails the journey. He is marvelous with his sparkling eyes and wit whenever he appears.
Also keep an eye on the servant Nazrul (Omar Maskati) who manages to steal a few brief moments for himself.
In this economical but attractive production of INDIAN INK you may learn something of the history of the Brits in India but Flora Crewe remains an enigma as the plot evaporates in the heat of the British colony striving for independence. Through Nov. 30th
Photos: Joan Marcus
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