Indian Ink by Tom Stoppard presented by Sound Theatre Company in association with Pratidhwani

Tom Stoppard is not for those who think FOX sitcoms represent the epitome of entertainment. He’s a thinking person’s playwright, and “Indian Ink” is an intellectual encounter wrapped in exotic staging and glorious language. It’s a broad reaching play, perhaps too broad given that it addresses: Indian/British relations, the impact of the Raj on both countries, the nature of art, the elusiveness of truth, eroticism, and the personal story of a single woman’s experience in torrid India as well as her younger sister’s encounters with her past. Whew!

It’s main character the fictitious British writer Flora Crewe goes to India in the 1930s after contracting TB. She’s one of those genteel intellectuals of the Mitford sort. Like some of those Mitford sisters, her background is a bit racy as evidenced by the fact that she posed nude for Modigliani.

In India she hobnobs with the English gentry and Hindu royalty and becomes caught up in the tensions of the times. The attractive Flora has many admirers including Nirad Das, a painter who, of course, paints Flora in a most provocative manner.

The story of Flora is juxtaposed to the story of her how her much younger sister, now an old woman in the 1980s, deals with the son of the portrait painter and others who wish to gain access to Flora’s writing and memorabilia. Both tales reveal the clash of cultures.

It’s a play that provides a wonderful opportunity for collaboration, and this co-operative venture by Sound Theatre and the theatre wing of the local South Asian arts organization, Pratidhwani, has much to commend it. The audience is treated to authentic Indian accents to contrast with the precise British English. Graceful Indian women offer traditional dances and music. There are exotic Indian scenes in contrast to the tidy British home of Flora’s aged sister.

Caitlin Frances makes a perky (and foxy) Flora. She’s self possessed and open to new adventure. She knows how to intrigue men, use them, and delight them. Betty Campbell as her younger sister in old age mixes gravitas with warmth. Dhiraj Khanna as Nirad Das covers his passion with impenetrable dignity. The entire cast is in top form.

There’s a wealth of ideas here and those ideas are presented in the elegant Stoppard prose. It is, however, almost three hours long, not fare for the timid theatregoer. But if you enjoy intellectual challenges and good staging, give it a go.

Through Sept. 30 at Center Theatre, Seattle Center Armory, Seattle, ( or 800 838-3006)

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