The International Writers Magazine: Review
Indian Ink by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Carey Perloff
The Laura Pels Theater NY
*Run ended Nov 30th
Dean Borok review
Of all the fascinating cultures of the world, I give the edge to India. They know how to live, especially the ones with money. I grew up watching the classic depictions of old-time Indian life in the films of Sanyajit Ray. The characters were possessed of a kind of formal dignity that that you don’t see in the Bollywood productions of today. Not that anybody is lamenting their passing.
Modern Indian actresses are incredibly toned and not anorexic, and the men are all chiseled like Miami Beach. Also, Indians like to film people with expressive faces, so that’s fun to watch too. But there is a reflective sensibility at work as well. Their attitudes are infused with the effects of millennia of culture. The scariest bad guy I ever saw, a huge, tattooed maniacal Gorgon of a bodybuilder in a Hindi-language thriller about the cocaine trade in Mumbai, thoughtfully admonishes his torture victim, “You must fulfill your karma”, before lovingly eviscerating him.
From my standpoint as a cinema enthusiast, I would say that American cinema would benefit from injecting more song and dance numbers in its movies. Indian cinema has shown that you can interrupt a James Bond-type thriller with an elaborate musical video and then proceed right back to the action. The Indian strength seems to be in the choreography of the production numbers, so Hollywood might benefit from bringing over a few of them to develop themes for the American market, the same as U.S. action directors and stunt professionals are currently working in India to improve the quality of their action movies.
India is spinning out of control, with its Hindi trance music, gold chains and festive partiers painting each other red in the streets, and the theatrical nostalgia for more comprehensible times has manifested itself in a reprise of “Indian Ink” at the Roundabout Theater on Broadway. The night I attended it was sold out and there was nobody under sixty, for whom its allure of British colonial India, with its gallant English officers and efficient native servants, must have struck a reassuring chord of White Man’s Burden.
The cast, (listed below) were seasoned professionals with extensive stage résumés at the back of the Playbill, presented a brilliant interpretation of “Indian Ink”, British playwright Tom Stoppard’s reminiscence of colonial India between the two world wars. Flora has chosen to travel to India to try to cure an undisclosed illness, where she is immediately welcomed into the British expat community and all kinds of petty intrigues ensue, especially when she begins spending time with Das, an Indian portrait painter who may or may not have painted a nude picture of her. It was annoying to me how the ancient audience twittered over some lame sexual double entendres that must have seemed dated even at the time when they were supposed to have been spoken. But that is the whole point of the play; written after the fact and concerning a world that probably never existed except in the mind of an ambitious London playwright. British comedies of middle-class manners are not something I have ever cared to endure.
That is not to say that the dialogue was not at times effervescent and entertaining. It held my interest for close to three hours, although the first several minutes of the play were inaudible due to the theater’s poor acoustics and the speaker’s relative nonchalance about bothering to project their stage voices.
The set design was particularly charming, lighting up at night to show the moon, the stars and the birds of paradise, the India of the soul as well as the mind. India has always been a subject of intense fascination for me, and that certainly takes in the British Raj, which, as the play points out, gave the polyglot Indian revolutionary movements against the British a single unifying tool to use against them – the English language.
Sets by Neil Patel; costumes by Candice Donnelly; lighting by Robert Wierzel; music and sound by Dan Moses Schreier; choreography by John Carrafa; At the Laura Pels Theater, Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater, 111 West 46th Street, Manhattan
WITH: Firdous Bamji (Nirad Das), Bill Buell (Englishman), Nick Choksi (Dilip), Romola Garai (Flora Crewe), Rosemary Harris (Eleanor Swan), Neal Huff (Eldon Pike), Caroline Lagerfelt (Englishwoman), Omar Maskati (Nazrul), Tim McGeever (Resident), Brenda Meaney (Nell), Philip Mills (Eric), Ajay Naidu (Coomaraswami), Bhavesh Patel (Anish Das), Lee Aaron Rosen (David Durance) and Rajeev Varma
© Dean Borok Dec 15th 2014
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