Carey Perloff, ACT revive ‘Indian Ink’

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American Conservatory Theater Artistic Director Carey Perloff reflects on her life and career in “Beautiful Chaos: A Life in the Theater.”
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You don’t need to have seen the American Conservatory Theater’s first production of “Indian Ink” to be intrigued by the company’s new revival.

Still, those who saw the play the first time around are in for a new and improved version, according to ACT artistic director Carey Perloff.

Perloff, a longtime Tom Stoppard collaborator, knows “Indian Ink” well. She directed the play’s American premiere at ACT in 1999. Last fall, she helmed a new production at New York’s Roundabout Theater.

Now she’s re-staging the Roundabout production for ACT audiences – and says that she loves the play more with each return. Perloff’s first move, once she was engaged to direct the New York production, was to fly to London and sit down with Stoppard.

“It was very exciting, because it was a chance to revisit the play, particularly to look at a couple of things in the script that we had always wanted to fix or change,” she explains. “We walked through the entire script, and Tom kind of radically reimagined the ending.”

The change puts greater emphasis on the play’s central love story, adds Perloff: “It’s quite a simple shift, but it made an enormous difference.”

Like Stoppard’s “Arcadia” (which Perloff has also staged twice at ACT), “Ink” is a heady, decades-spanning mix of passion, intellect, culture and history. The play follows English poet Flora Crewe through India in the 1930s; fifty years later, her sister and an American biographer attempt to unravel the mysteries surrounding Flora’s life and loves.

Perloff’s staging brings actors from the New York cast onstage with ACT stalwarts. In a nice twist, Firdous Bamji, the actor who played Anish in ACT's 1999 production, is now playing that character’s father.

“It’s a weird and lovely coincidence,” says Perloff. “It feels like an amazing circle being closed.” Second chances in the theater are rare, and Perloff says that coming back to “Ink” after a long interval has been immensely rewarding.

“I do think Tom’s plays merit real re-investigation,” she says. “They’re so rich, and they yield a lot on the second or third viewing. He has a kind of virtuosity with the English language that is so thrilling and so full of extraordinary ideas. At the same time, he’s so full of heart.

“That’s what I love about his work. He writes absolutely fantastic characters – funny, sexy, complicated, witty, surprising. And there are ideas to be investigated in the plays that shift and change over time. So I’m sure there will be more Stoppard in our future.”

IF YOU GO

Indian Ink

Presented by American Conservatory Theater

Where: Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.

When: Jan. 14- Feb. 8

Tickets: $20 to $120

Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

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