Betty Campbell and Scott Ward Abernethy in Indian Ink (Ken Holmes)
Sound Theatre Company and Pratidhwani
(at Armory Theatre)
Through August 30, 2015
The great British playwright, Tom Stoppard, can be both exhilarating and inscrutable, in turns. So, if you don’t know one of his plays, yet, you might not be quite sure what you’re getting. Sound Theatre Company and Pratidhwani are presenting Indian Ink in a Seattle area premiere. This is a lovely, accessible piece!
This is mostly a story about an unconventional woman in the 1920s and her relationship with painters. Flora Crewe (Caitlin Frances) is a poet and free spirit, though when we meet her, she is quite ill. She travels to India for her health, though it is not the best fit for health reasons.
She meets Nirad Das (Dhiraj Khanna), a painter, and becomes his model, and maybe something more, as she flouts conventions of the time. She lives only a short time longer, but long enough to provoke academics to become hooked on her writing.
A biographer, Eldon Pike (Scott Ward Abernethy), visits her now-elderly sister, Eleanor (Betty Campbell) to try to gain insight and find treasure. So, does Das’ son, Anish (Monish Gangwani). Das ends up gaining more insight than Pike, since Eleanor feels like Das is more “family.”
The play slides back and forth in time and place, from more modern England to 1920s India, and the open set by Phillip Lienau, with flowing white gauze curtains gives the freedom to look back in hazy history. India is also established by dancers and Indian music, choreographed by Moumita Bhattacharya and Gauri Kulkarni.
Director Andrew McGinn manages the both professional and “emerging” actors well. However, there are some significant challenges. The Armory Theatre is a cavernous space and it can be very difficult to hear in it. When complicated by English in fairly thick Indian accents, it can be almost impossible to decipher scripted speech. When overlaid by an aggressive sound design (also by McGinn), it is rendered completely impossible.
Despite many auditory challenges, the emotions of the moments come through even if the text itself can’t be as well-deciphered. While a Stoppard play is often very dependent on his scripted wordplay, this one can be carried somewhat on the well-played emotion of the cast.
Frances is charismatic and engaging as Flora, with an easy air of relaxing conventions – not flouting them with any vengeance, just wishing to be herself. Campbell is sprightly, sarcastic, sharp and a little crafty in this role, and it’s a pleasure to see her on stage again, after a good while. Abernethy provides a chunk of comic relief in his pathetic passion for all things Flora.
The play clocks in near three hours, but in this case does not “feel” that long. It is completely suitable for younger attendees, though there is a brief amount of nudity to be aware of. It is discreetly handled.
While some mysteries of Flora are cleared up by seeing her in “real” life, still others remain, at the end. Stoppard seems to say that biographers can never really know their subjects for certain.