note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Beverly Creasey
Yasmina Reza's luminous play about strangers on a train is getting a remarkably resonant production at Gloucester Stage this summer. "The Unexpected Man" is both Reza's title and the title of a book whose author is sharing a compartment with a stately and elegant 'woman of a certain age' in the play.
She recognizes him but can't decide whether to speak to him or not. He is absorbed, but not by any means in in pleasant thought. He is obsessing about his daughter's dismal choice of a fiance... about the value of time... and fame... and friends who can be critical of his work.
The two alternate monologues for most of the play --- and in director Isabel Ramos' unexpectedly moving version of the piece they speak without accents (i.e. they speak with American accents) althought clearly, they are not Americans. This is a brilliant coup, as it leaves us free to listen to the Play not bothered with the difficulties of British inflections. It turns out the play is quite melodic, with each actor/instrument trading ideas and phrases --- as music would, for example, in a tone poem.
Donna Sorbello gives a tour de force performance, making the woman both haughty and vulnerable, playful and sardonic, negotiating Reza's musical dialogue from high dudgeon to a hilariously low "Oh God" at one exasperating point. Molly Trainer's frilly edges to Sorbello's suit adds just the right softness to her hauteur.
Ronald Hunter, by stark contrast, looks for all the world like Mickey Spillane --- a powerful everyman who, despite significant success, worries like the rest of us about being lost in an increasingly impersonal world.
Ramos cleverly places the two on the same bench over two railroad ties and under several eerie tree branches (gorgeously back-lit by Jeff Banish) which one can almost hear scraping against the windows as the train streaks by. Jeremy Barnett's evocative set is complemented by Haddon S. Kime's haunting sound effects, which crescendo as the action rises. In short, "The Unexpected Man" at Gloucester Stage is an unexpected pleasure.