THEATER REVIEW: "Indian Ink" @ Laura Pels Theatre

Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink is a sweet, melancholic reverie on family, art, England and India, an elegy for lost cultures, friends and family. Set in both India and England in 1930 and 1980 the play shows the how time ravages countries, customs and memory. In a first rate production, directed with an eye for nuance and detail by Carey Perloff and starring the luminous Rosemary Harris and Romola Garai, the Roundabout does itself proud. Every element from the casting (Carrie Gardner & Stephen Kopel) to the costumes (Candice Donnelly) to the sets (Neil Patel) to the background music (Dan Moses Schreier) is at the service of illuminating Tom Stoppard’s work.

In 1980s England, Eleanor Swan (Rosemary Harris) is working with the young eager-beaver academic, Eldon Pike (Neal Huff) on a book of letters from her poet sister, Flora Crewe (Romola Garai) who died back in 1930 in a remote Indian village. The success of a reissued volume of Crewe’s poetry has led to a renewed interest in her life which leads Pike to interview Swan and get hold of Crewe’s letters, written by Crewe to her younger sister, Eleanor, then an editor of a political magazine, in 1930. The show goes back and forth between scenes of a worn out Crewe arriving in Jummapur as a minor celebrity, housed in a slightly run-down mansion with servants and 1980 England and India where Eldon researches his book almost reliving Crewes tragically short life. In the process, themes of colonialism (and its implicit subjugation of the Indians) and the vicissitudes of even minor fame are explored in a leisurely, character-driven manner. The formality of the Indians of 1930 towards Crewe makes her growing passion for Nirad Das (Firdous Bamji) a local artist painting her portrait all the more poignant and telling. This portrait becomes a plot point as it resurfaces in 1980.

Stoppard really knows these people and we experience the heat, the social structures and all the events through their eyes and voices, from the minor disgruntled Indian servants, to the upper crust Brits at play in their restricted clubs. The pacing is leisurely which allows moments to stretch out luxuriously, such as when an overheated Crewe removes her clothing to cope with the heat or when the younger version of Eleanor Swan, then Eleanor Crewe, visits the grave of her sister.

As Eldon, Neal Huff projects both naïveté and intelligence as he runs from England to India researching his book. Nirad Das, the quietly intense artist is played by Firdous Bamji, balancing inner ardor with social strictures. As his son, Anish, called on to help Eldon, Bhavesh Patel illustrates the difference between his father’s generation and his own, freer way of life. The cadre of Englishmen in Jummapur is led by the aristocratic, handsome David Durance played by Lee Aaron Rosen whose eyes reveal the warm feelings he harbors for the sensual Crewe, despite his stiff-upper-lip manner. As the young Nell, Brenda Meaney makes a lovely impression as she hovers over her sister’s tombstone.

But, it is the two leading women who are the main reasons to see Indian Ink. Romola Garai captures the wit and sensuality of Crewe. Her physical and emotional ease are in stark contrast with the formality of 1930 small-town India. She speaks beautifully and her body continually reveals as much as her words. Rosemary Harris is simply marvelous as the older Eleanor, barely suppressing the wry irony she quietly communicates as she does her best to cooperate on Eldon’s opus. She still moves with grace and dignity and possesses a quietly glowing charisma.

September 30-November 30, 2014
Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46th St., between 6th & 7th Aves.
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-719-1300 or
Running Time: 2 hrs. 45 min. with one intermission
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