Tuesday, 31 October 2000

The Unexpected Man, Oct 31, 2000

by Yasmina Reza
at Fairfax Studio until November 4, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

When a skilful playwright meets a director and two actors of matching talent, it is a recipe for success.

The Unexpected Man combines French playwright, Yasmina Reza, Melbourne director, Simon Phillips and Sydney actors, Kerry Walker and John Gaden.Voila! Vive la recipe!

Reza's basic premise of a man and a woman sitting on a train together without communicating could make a frustrating and static play. But Reza creates their inner life by writing in a series of internal monologues as the pair travel by train together from Paris to Frankfurt.

Phillips production is innovative. The entire 75 minutes are set on a beautiful, square revolving stage designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell. Each actor, seated on a wooden chair, also revolves independently. This creates a dynamic physicality in a word-based play.

The journey is further evoked by the thud and rattle of Ian McDonald's atmospheric score, by the gravel railroad surrounding the revolve and Nick Schlieper's continual stream of passing railroad lights.

Reza makes this seemingly banal situation fascinating. Paul Parsky is a famous novelist. His fellow traveller, a middle-aged, middle-class woman, is one of his devoted readers. She is coincidentally carrying his latest book, The Unexpected Man, as reading material.

The drama arises not from their interaction or conflict, but from the tension as we wait for them to speak. She is too embarrassed, shy or polite to accost him with fandom. She will not even take out his book in case it causes awkwardness.

He is initially self-absorbed then later compelled to find out about this cool and attractive woman.

Gaden is compelling as the ageing and bitter writer. he captures his profound sense of regret and cynicism about his life, work and the world at large.

Walker is composed, amused and surprising as she shifts between being dignified and almost child-like and adoring.

Reza's writing is based in a stream of consciousness narrative style but her dialogue is laconic, poetic and witty. It echoes the bristling dialogue of her most successful play, Art. Both characters wander around in their minds, revelling in their pasts, lost friends, antagonisms, obsessions and loves.

Finally the suspense is relieved. They speak. She reveals her ardent admiration and fantasy about him. He laughs. End.

By Kate Herbert

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