Friday, November 14, 2014

Indian Ink

The show is by Tom Stoppard. It takes place in two time periods. In the more recent period, a scholar is trying, with mixed success, to understand what happened in the earlier one. The play's themes include memory, love, class, and social mores.
Rosemary Harris, Romola Garai, Bhavesh Patel
Photo: Joan Marcus

No, this is not Stoppard's magnificent Arcadia. It is instead his not-quite-as-magnificent but-still-amazing Indian Ink. 

In 1930, Flora Crew, a poet whose work has been accused of obscenity, moves to India for her health. In the 1980s, Eldon Pike, an American who is collecting her letters, meets with Crew's now elderly sister Eleanor Swan to discuss Crew's writing and life. 

It is interesting that the more recent sections of Arcadia and Indian Ink both take place in the 1980s. It is easy to imagine Hannah Jarvis from the former having dinner and a chat with Eldon Pike from the latter. She'd probably find him a little soft.

While Arcadia is firmly planted in England, Indian Ink explores India and its class system, Indian art, imperialism, the overlap between life and art, and how people change as they age.

Since both plays are by Tom Stoppard, these explorations come in the form of intricate plotting, witty repartee, passionate relationships, and biting satire. More importantly, both plays are at heart love stories. They can be appreciated without any interest in the rasas of Indian art or the law of thermodynamics. On the other hand, if you do care about ideas and science and art, the pieces are scrumptious brain candy.

The particular production of Indian Ink at the Laura Pels through the end of November is a complete delight. Romola Garai and Rosemary Harris are perfect as the sisters, 50 years apart, smart and lovely, full of wry humor,  willing to follow where their hearts lead them. The rest of the cast is also excellent, in particular Firdous Bamji as the artist who paints Flora and Bhavesh Patel as the son who visits Eleanor to try to discover more about his father.

The set design by Neil Patel is attractive and effective, and the lighting design by Robert Wierzel is painterly in a show in which "painterly" is of particular importance. Director Carey Perloff brings everything together into a seamless and beautiful whole.

(first time: first preview, highly discounted tix, mezzanine seats; second time: somewhat discounted tickets, orchestra left rear for act one, first row for act two)

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