THE UNEXPECTED MAN by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, directed by Chris Abraham, with Les Carlson and Deborah Kipp. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Runs to November 7, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $23-$28, Sunday pwyc-$15. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It's surprising how well two people can communicate when they don't talk to each other.
Take the characters in Yasmina Reza 's The Unexpected Man , who share a train compartment as they travel from Paris to Frankfurt. He ( Les Carlson ) is a well-known novelist; she ( Deborah Kipp ) is carrying his latest book in her handbag but is uncertain whether to bring it out when she realizes who he is.
Rather than have the two converse (except for a few lines, some of which are seemingly trivial), Reza's intelligent, clever script, translated by Christopher Hampton , is a series of internal monologues. Using language and detail frugally, Reza manages to paint well-rounded portraits of both and also comment on the effect of writing for both author and reader.
The man is bitter about life and love, constipated physically and emotionally, a figure who, because he never warms up, is hard to like. It's more than halfway into the play before he even acknowledges that he has a companion in the compartment. But there's nevertheless something intriguing about him, for he's able to use the smallest crumb of reality to create a possible storyline.
She, on the other hand, has a rich inner life and is a fan who's had a kind of closet affair with the author's novels. Touching, funny, having recently lost a close male friend who has some of the qualities of the author's characters, the flirtatious woman wonders whether she should acknowledge the person sitting across from her.
Kevin Lamotte 's lighting captures the difference between the pair, enclosing the man in a cool glow, the woman in a warmer one.
Yet under Chris Abraham 's subtle direction, they aren't really worlds apart. Though each misses signals from the other when they finally do speak, there are moments when we realize that they share more than they assume they do.
The production has some problems (a miked reverb for the internal voices is annoying, and rhythms are sometimes missed), but The Unexpected Man features some fine writing and a wealth of human detail.