Tom Stoppard: Prominent, prolific, and critically acclaimed. Certain playwrights hold a certain shroud of prestige to the point that any talk of criticism towards them is considered heresy. Well, consider me a heretic. Try though I may, I have attempted to read his plays and watch them staged. Each time, I’m left in a state of confusion and frustration. Usually, this is due to the fact that Stoppard’s use of language is so comprehensive one might think that he decides to use every single word of the English language in a single play. Or perhaps I’m a simpleton who just doesn’t “get it.” All the votes on that aren’t in yet.
However, my single vote on Roundabout Theater’s Indian Ink is in, and unfortunately, I’m not voting in favor of it. Indian Ink takes us to 1930s India, where we meet Flora Crewe (Romola Garai) , a British gal who likes to pen poetry and sleep with men-lots of them. As her sister, Eleanor (Rosemary Harris) notes, “She used them like batteries. When things went flat, she’d put in a new one.” Crewes establishes a friendship with Nirad (Firdous Bamji), a painter who asks to paint Crewe’s portrait. She obliges. Meanwhile, she continues to have dalliances with any willing man and is taught lessons of painting styles from Nirad. All of this is seen in flashbacks from Eleanor’s memory. A scholar, Eldon Pike (Neal Huff), is currently writing an academic paper on Crewe’s life and has enlisted Eleanor’s aid to discuss the specifics of her sister’s life. These scenes take place in the 1980s.
There is subtle beauty here. Robert Wierzel’s lighting is exquisite and work beautifully against Candice Donelly’s gorgeous costumes. To completely dismiss Stoppard is foolish and unfair, and he does scribe some genuinely poignant lines. As Pike reads one of Flora’s last letters, she writes: “Perhaps my soul will stay behind, as a smudge of paint on paper.” It’s a lovely sentiment and yet, one wishes that Stoppard could be more laconic. Instead, we must withstand close to three hours of endless dialogue about the cultural differences between India and the British. It’s comparable to being cornered at a party, in a fabulous room, by a guy who incessantly chatters about Amway-all while you hold an empty wine glass and pray for Armageddon to strike.
Indian Ink plays off Broadway through Nov. 30 at the Laura Pels theater, 111 West 46th Street between 6th and Broadway. For tickets and information, visit: http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/Indian-Ink.aspx
Manhattan Theater Club must subconsciously be channeling classic Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Last season’s The Snow Geese gathered a family in upstate New York who grieved the recent loss of their patriarch. Those who attended the country getaway spoke only of regret and loss-all in true Chekhovian flair. Now, his spirit presides in the Berkshires, the setting for Donald Margulies’ new dramatic comedy The Country House.
An always classy and elegant Blythe Danner, leads this superb cast as Anna Patterson, an esteemed actress who has arrived in her home near Williamstown, Massachusetts. It is the first time she’s stepped foot in the house since the passing of her actress daughter, Kathy. Walter Keegan (David Rasche), Kathy’s husband slash hack director who now turns his attention to a B film series called Truck Stop, is also in tow for the family festivities. His eyes happen to be targeted on Nell McNally (Kate Jennings Grant), his weekend companion and an aspiring knock-out actress. She’s also significantly younger in years than Walter. Walter’s daughter, Susie (Sarah Steele) is also bunking down can see right through her father’s mid-life crisis. Patterson’s son, Elliot Cooper, joins as the most Chekhovian character here. Cynical, bitter, and yearning for the unreciprocated love from his mother, Cooper is planning to unveil his latest play, which the family will read. No doubt that Margulies has molded him from Konstantin Treplyov, the forelorn playwright from Chekhov’s The Seagull. With all of these dramatic personalities under one roof, rest assured that sparks will fly. Oh–but wait! Michael Astor (Daniel Sunjata) is coming too. Astor is a fellow friend of Patterson who is now the star of a popular television series. He vows to take the couch for his sleeping preference. Astor is swarthy and handsome and his charm is simply too irresistible to resist- by every female character under this roof. You can probably tell where this is headed.
Unlike Margulies’ last work, Time Stands Still, there is much less weight to this piece- which is not to renounce it. It would be rather ridiculous to compare a piece about a photojournalist who has returned from Iraq after a roadside bomb injury to a play about the petty dramas of an acting family. Still, The Country House provides a perfect vehicle for Blythe Danner to grace the stage and remind us what acting royalty is all about. At one point, her Anna Patterson laments the fact that the likes of Geraldine Page and Julie Harris are gone. “There are no more stars on Broadway,” she says. “Oh sure there are stars on Broadway, but they aren’t Broadway stars.” It’s a cutting and hilarious line, but with respectful disagreement, Danner can take her place among the greats.
The Country House, on Broadway now through November 23rd at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th betweeen Broadway and 8th aves. Tickets avail at the box office or by visiting http://thecountryhousebway.com/