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NEW YORK (AP) — Tom Stoppard's witty 1995 play "Indian Ink" takes a romantic look back at India under waning British rule, gently mocking both the British Raj and some of the English-smitten "natives."
There's a timeless sensuality in the air of the Roundabout Theatre Company's leisurely, evocative and thoroughly enjoyable New York premiere that opened Tuesday night off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theatre. An accomplished cast includes the dual treat of Rosemary Harris and Romola Garai, playing sisters connected across time through letters written by Garai's character 50 years earlier.
Stoppard, known for dazzling dramas like "Arcadia" and "The Real Thing," lived as a boy in India for a few years in the mid-1940s, and presents this almost-cozy look at a pivotal time in that nation's history.
Garai winsomely plays Flora Crewe, a passionate young English poet visiting rural India in 1930 as uncertainty about independence from British rule is coming to a boil. Despite fragile health, Flora continues her optimistic, free-spirited approach to life and love. Garai recites from Flora's letters to her younger sister, Eleanor, while impressively enacting pivotal moments from Flora's lecture tour in India.
Harris is serenely commanding as Eleanor, shown 50 years later at her home in England. She's reading her sister's letters from India again, sharing them with an eager scholar, Eldon Pike (Neal Huff, nicely nerdy). He gathered and published Flora's poems, and is now collecting her letters for another book, earnestly believing that footnoting the letters through investigating her weeks in India is his "sacred trust." Eleanor wryly plies him with tea and cake while carefully concealing certain facts — and artifacts.
Fluid direction by Carey Perloff successfully handles Stoppard's intermingling of past and present, while the actors relish the rich dialogue and give unique personalities to their deliberately stereotypical characters. Firdous Bamji is delightful as bashful artist Nirad Das, who develops a special relationship with Flora while painting her portrait. Bhavesh Patel cuts a dashing figure as Das' grown son Anish, who visits Eleanor to learn more about his father's past.
Servants in traditional dress link past and present by moving smoothly between both time periods, against the backdrop of Neil Patel's beautifully architectural set. Flora's summery frocks add period authenticity, with vibrant lighting creating a sense of suffocating heat that, in Flora's poetry, "strains the oxygen out of the air/thickening the night like Indian ink."
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