Is there ever a good moment for a wistfully romantic look at colonialism? If so, this ain’t it. Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink, now getting its New York premiere at the Roundabout, wants to inspire historical reveries by time-traveling between exotic 1930s India and nostalgic 1980s England. Instead the 1995 play mostly inspires indignation and fatigue.
Flora Crewe (Romola Garai), a spunky literary scenester from London, travels to pre-independence India to catch some healing rays. There she meets artist Nirad Das
(Firdous Bamji), and the two find artistic and romantic
communion: He paints her portrait; she writes sweaty, sun-drenched poetry. Between segments of Flora’s tale, we scoot forward to the present day to watch her now-elderly sister (Rosemary Harris) parse Flora’s legacy alongside Das’s son and an enthusiastic Crewe scholar.
There’s a reason this play isn’t performed as often as other Stoppard works. India in the 1930s offers rich dramatic terrain, but Indian Ink focuses on gooey encounters between Flora and Das, surrounding them with charming locals and platitudes about art. Stoppard’s characteristic wit is overwhelmed by the historical crimes of colonialism, and he has written on similar themes — art and life, love and history — elsewhere, with more self-awareness. After almost three hours in Stoppard’s India, you’lI be eager for your own