Review: Indian Ink

Indian Ink Laura Pels Theatre

This is definitely one of the warmer plays by the notoriously cerebral British playwright Tom Stoppard. Indian Ink follows fictional Modernist English poet Flora Crewe (Romola Garai) as she visits India in the 1930s, where her intricate relationship with Indian artist Nirad Das (Firdous Bamji) evolves against the backdrop of Gandhi’s nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly, often called the “Salt March”. Fifty years later, in 1980s England, her younger sister Eleanor (the ever-luminous Rosemary Harris) is at pains to protect her controversial sister’s name and legacy.

Stoppard wrote Indian Ink shortly after his highly acclaimed play Arcadia, which also tells intertwining stories split by wide divides of time. I like Indian Ink a bit more than the better-known Arcadia – the terrain of India, removed from the buttoned-up world of the English gentry, gives a more open feel to the play, and a wider and more varied aesthetic canvas on which to paint. Director Carey Perloff keeps all of that complicated interweaving crystal clear.

Garai may not be the ideal Crewe – there’s little of the Modernist rebel that’s in Stoppard’s lines in her demeanor – but she does a more than creditable job, showing dynamic range in Flora’s reactions toward the diverse personalities that disturb her while she is trying to recover her strength. Overall, a nuanced and moving performance.

Harris is never less than magnificent, but she’s given little to do here. Eleanor is decidedly more conservative and properly “English” than her sister, which severely limits the range of what Harris can openly express. You can bet, though, that Harris has worked out a more dynamic inner life for Eleanor – you can see it clearly in the odd warmth she gives this chilly woman.

I do certainly appreciate Stoppard’s insights and intelligence, but I’m never going to be his biggest fan. Even with that, I found much to actually enjoy in Indian Ink. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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