As I read the other reviews for this production I am in complete awe. Somehow the writers were able to follow this play, whereas I was left in the dust. The only time I could focus and get some clarity was when Rosemary Harris was on the stage. Sadly that happens way to little.
This is another Stoppard time travel piece in which a younger sister, Mrs. Nell Swan (Rosemary Harris), now in her 70’s and living in England, reviews the life of her sister Flora Crewe (Romola Garai) who was a poet in the 1920’s and 30’s. Flora left England for India “for her health,” and she planned to work on new poems while there. Mrs. Swann is visited by Eldon Pike (Neal Huff) who has edited one volume of Flora’s poetry and is now researching her letters for another book. He and Mrs. Swann look over the letters that Flora sent from India on one area of the stage, and on the rest of the stage India comes to life. Sort of.
Well, it does come to alive, but there is not a lot of life there. Flora is busy getting acclimated to her new digs, meeting the local men who range from her servant to her host Mr. Coomaraswami (Ajay Naidu) to the Raja (Rajeev Varma), who wants to bed her, to an artist, Nirad Das (Firdous Bamji) who wants to gift her with a portrait, to a British soldier, David Durance (Lee Aaron Rosen) who wants to marry her. There are no women of substance in this story other than the two sisters.
As we move back and forth in time, the characters inhabit the same locations decades apart. This should be no problem, but it often was. For instance we do not stay in one year in England but advance in time so that the book of letters is published. Actually this becomes a plot point, because the son of the artist Andish Das (Bhavesh Patel) spots the book in a window. It features one of the portraits that his father created for Flora. This leads him to find Mrs. Swann and present her with a gift about which few people know.
As we go along, Stoppard presents us with a wonderful travelogue of Indian history, art and culture. He seems to care a lot for this chunk of real estate, and he invites us to join him in admiration. It is easy to do so. We hear about the politics as well as the Hindu color palette and why it is so. The mixing of the cultures and the opinions on its value is debated. And of course we are reminded that just about the time Shakespeare was dipping his pen in ink India was a full blown success story – which is why the British went there. It is a fascinating and thought provoking trove of information.
What is unclear is why we are being told this story. There is little that is exceptional about Flora, and Ms. Garai’s performance is without luster as are the wigs the women wear. The set is so spare it does little to help the time travel. The supporting cast is quite wonderful, but who they are and what purpose they serve is often obscure.
The real treasure is Rosemary Harris who achieves more out of the moment when she hands a book over to her visitor than all the moments of the rest of this production combined..
By Tom Stoppard; directed by Carey Perloff
Sets by Neil Patel; costumes by Candice Donnelly; lighting by Robert Wierzel; music and sound by Dan Moses Schreier; dialect coach, Gillian Lane-Plescia; fight director, Thomas Schall; hair and wig design by Tom Watson; choreography by John Carrafa; production stage manager, Nevin Hedley; production manager, Aurora Productions; general manager, Nicholas J. Caccavo; associate artistic director, Scott Ellis. Presented by the Roundabout Theater Company, Todd Haimes, artistic director; Harold Wolpert, managing director; Julia C. Levy, executive director; Sydney Beers, general manager. At the Laura Pels Theater, Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater, 111 West 46th Street, Manhattan; 212-719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org. Through Nov. 30. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes.
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 (Rajah/Politician).