I have an ongoing pact with a close friend to see as many of Tom Stoppard’s works as possible. A noble goal, all will agree, and not an undaunting task. Mr. Stoppard has been staging a play every 2-3 years since the mid ‘60s! And he’s still writing! Nevertheless, we are resolute and that is how we came to spend a lovely fall afternoon in a darken theater.
I really enjoyed the show, it was entertaining, well-acted, well written and even educational but at the end I’m not sure what the point was, or if there was a point. Being a work by Mr. Stoppard it possible that meaning is too subtle for me to discern or that the play is no more than it was, a snapshot of a person and a time. Which is entirely acceptable. Not to say that the play is irrelevant, there was conflict, and character growth and culture and history, but at the end none of it seemed to tie together, at least to me. Still, an enjoyable afternoon of theater.
The play takes place in two time periods and two places, 1930’s Royal India and 1980’s England and India. The story follows the adventure of a slightly known (and fictional) poet Flora Crewe who travels to India for her health. Her story is recounted from letters she wrote to her younger sister, Eleanor Swan, who as an old woman in 1980’s England is sharing the letters with an English professor who is attempting to write a biography of Flora. Flora has had minor success as a poet and is known for having a scandalous life, although she intimates that her life is less scandalous than most credit. Although there is almost certainly an affair with the artist Modigliani, which may or may not be the source of her illness. The majority of the story focuses on Flora’s relationship with an Indian artist, Nirad Das, who befriends her and asks to paint her portrait. He is the main conduit through which Flora experiences the culture of India. During this period of history British Expats in India had done a pretty good job of making India Britain, except for the heat and humidity. Flora is disappointed with the portrait when she sees it as the artist has rendered her in a continental style. “I thought you were and Indian artist,” she says; she quite clearly wanted a portrait in a “native” style, while he was attempting to please her by painting in a style he thinks she would prefer.
One of the mysteries that Ms. Crewe’s erstwhile biographer is attempting to solve is a reference to a nude portrait and her travels to India to find it. For some reason, not explained, both Flora’s sister and Nirad Das’s son conspire to keep this information from her biographer, initially independently of each other and them in collusion with each other. This is a curious point of the story, why does it matter to them now that this be kept secret when all other aspect of her life have been revealed. It’s not like in this day and age a nude portrait would hardly be shocking, it was barely shocking then. I suppose it’s a way to keep a piece of her for themselves or perhaps they are merely trying to protect Flora’s and Nirad’s memories from further exploitation for someone elses ambition.
The performances were all very good. Rosemary Harris as Eleanor was quite charming and funny. Firdous Bamji was excellent as the artist Nirad Das, I really enjoyed his performance very much as I did Romola Garai as Flora. In enjoyable and entertaining afternoon of theater and for 2-1/2 hour play very well paced.