Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Unexpected Man"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"The Unexpected Man"

By Yasmina Reza
(Translated by Christopher Hampton)
Directed by Isabel Ramos

Original Music by Haddon S. Kime
Set Design by Jeremy Barnett
Light Design by Jeff Benish
Costume Design by Molly Trainer
Sound Design by Haddon S. Kime
Production Manager/Technical Director Gwenmarie Ewing
Stage Manager Nicole Jesson

The Man....................Ronald Hunter
The Woman.................Donna Sorbello

I am probably not the most reliable reviewer for this play, because I found it much funnier than did the rest of the audience at The Gloucester Stage on press-night. Most of the play takes place entirely in the minds of a couple who share the same triple-seat on a train. Isabel Ramos the director allows the pair --- inside their minds, mind --- to move about while their attentions flit from idea to idea; Haddon Kime's train-noises and Jeff Benish's lights provide breaks; but essentially the play is simply two characters on a train carefully Not speaking to one another. I found it fascinating, funny, and beautifully played.

Ronald Hunter plays a successful novelist nearing 60 with two things on his mind: the threat of a biography, and the threat that his daughter will marry a literary critic closer to his age than to hers. Both situations unleash a flood of ruminations on his life, his artistic achievements, his last (called "repetitious") novel, and again and again on his feeling of personal bitterness --- an abstract emotion he insists has never infected his writing. He is, in other words, as totally wrapped in himself as you'd expect any aging writer to be.

Donna Sorbello, on the other hand, once she becomes aware who shares her train seat, is fixated more on him than on herself. He happens to be her favorite writer --- one whose work in many ways has formed most of her attitudes toward life, one whose latest book is, as yet only partly read, in her handbag! And so the totally separate monologues twist and circle about the same subjects, with here and there little side-trips to personal matters. Her major dilemma, of course, is whether to approach The Great Man, whether to entice him by taking out his own book and starting to read.

The suspense is often unbearable, and to say anything more about how it works its way to an end would spoil an unbroken hour and a half of delightful theater.

Part of the success of the evening is what happens to Player B while the other has the floor. Studiously unaware of the sense of what the other is saying, each is at least intermittently aware of not being alone --- and this must be signalled totally by body-language. There is even a passage, while the two are out of their chairs and not even looking at one another, when they shift from one foot to another and turn so totally in unison as to be dancing without touching. And then, as the indifferent writer gradually takes increasing notice of the woman, her interested, cautious glances begin to be responded to with his own....

The quite ironic self-evaluations of a novelist --- his work, and the workings of his digestive system --- and the evaluations of his adoring reader frequently clash in ways I, at least, found delightfully witty. But you'll have to see the show to find out if you agree with me, or the more intense, less giggly audience.

After you see the show, drop me a QUICK-TAKE and tell me who's right!


"The Unexpected Man" (28 August - 8 September)
267 East Main Street, GLOUCESTER MA
1(978) 281-4433

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide