While travelling on a train a woman (Sasha Higgins) finds herself, by chance, in a compartment sitting opposite novelist (Ron Bottitta). Not a novelist but “The” Novelist! She is one of his most devoted readers and admirers. Herein begins the plot. What to do; speak to him, retrieve his latest book from her bag, begin reading and wait for a reaction? She fantasizes that she will approach him, say something humorous to make him laugh, share her insights of his work, tell him how his words resonated within her, changing her life prospective. She restrains herself.
The pompous novelist, initially alone in the compartment, deliberates on the bitterness of well, pretty much everything: his friend's choice of a girlfriend, his sex life, his career, his daughter who is marrying an older man and his legacy. He questions his contribution to the literary world, asking “Did I write what I wanted to write?” He responds “No, never. I wrote what I was capable of writing, not what I wanted to.” (Side note, I love that line.)
The two passengers sit silently with their thoughts, curiosities and reveals. She conducts a one-sided fantasy conversation with the writer, divulging intimacies of her life: the death of a friend, romantic friendships during her marriage, her son. The writer primarily preoccupied with himself, only after some time turns his attention to the woman, his first thought about her was that it is "Strange this woman never reads anything .... Not even a spot of Marie Claire."
The woman and the novelist deliver internal monologues. Both recall their own memories, and contemplate ways to strike up a conversation. When the two finally speak, they are tentative, in the way that strangers in polite company would be were they not properly introduced. At the end of the play we know these characters, though they do not know one another.
A special adroitness is required to translate and give life to the characters of “The Unexpected Man.“ Ron Bottitta’s proficiency devours each morsel and nuance of the Novelist from the twist of his mustache to the white linen suit. Ron Bottitta is the Novelist.
Sasha Higgins is perfection as The Woman.
Playing the chords of her characters transitions moving from one thought to another, and one emotion to another was played with metronome precision. Sasha is a tour de force.
Director P.K. Ziainia’s ability to make the texts real on stage was achieved flawlessly; and his combination of visuals with texts was seamless.
The train compartment was unequivocally a feat of exceptional creativity. The set design and lighting were effective in setting the scene. How it was accomplished, I don’t know, but the cast and crew were able to allow me to come out of the theatre with a sense that I had been watched two strangers on a train.
This is quality theatre with exceptionally gifted actors performing at optimum levels.
This is where you go to get your lesson on how to do theatre right. I recommend you see “The Unexpected Man.” After which, take a ride on Amtrak, perhaps strike up a conversation with an interesting stranger.