Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Unexpected Man"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Beverly Creasey

An Unexpected Pleasure
at Nora

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Have you ever ridden in a train and wondered about the anonymous person seated opposite, sharing your space, sharing your air? Playwright Yasmina Reza has. In her vibrant, quirky "The Unexpected Man" (translated by Christopher Hampton) she first speculates that such an encounter might have no effect on either person .... then she reverses herself to show us what each character is actually thinking.

Each seems deep in thought, but their thoughts are about each other. The woman recognizes the man as the author of the book tucked away in her handbag --- an author whose writing she adores, in fact. "I've spent my life with you," she thinks aloud --- but this is theater and he doesn't hear. She wonders whether to break the silence, whether or not to produce the book.

He, being an author, invents scenarios for his attractive travelling companion. Is she running away from something...or to someone? Each is reminded of friends, of obligations, and of regrets, as their minds wander. Because Reza has made him an author, she gets to comment (and does so comically) on the creative process. She makes him quite full of his own importance ... and one of the play's best moments arrives when Steve McConnell (resplendent as the uppity writer) is crushed because he thinks she hasn't responded to his "beseeching gaze".

Nancy E. Carroll is charming as the middle-aged woman travelling alone, crisp and chic in the gorgeous pink suit by designer Gail Astrid Buckley. (The script does call for both actors to be older, but McConnell and Carroll make it work, so I won't carp.)

Brynna Bloomfield's stylized set of wall "tracks" and opposing seats suggests a train compartment, but it's Scott Pinckney's lighting which makes this a journey --- from harsh at the outset before we've gotten to know the two, to soft when the two finally speak; by the time the lights warm to the characters, so have we. Daniel Gidron's direction for this sleek Nora Theatre production is as steady as the train, moving surely and speedily to a connection.

"An Unexpected Man" (till 19 May)
Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON, MA

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