Head Games

Strangers on a train find moving moments in The Unexpected Man at Cesear's Forum.

Yasmina Reza Produced by Cesear's Forum at Kennedy's Down Under, Playhouse Square Center, 1501 Euclid Avenue Through June 10, 216-241-6000
It's a fact that the best statements we will ever utter and the finest conversations we will ever experience will always be the ones that happen between our ears. Whether we're "talking" to real or fictional people in our imaginations, we always seem to come up with a crisply delivered mot juste at the perfect moment, instead of murmuring inanities or just drooling on ourselves, like we do when speaking out loud.

Interior speeches -- perfectly shaped and brilliantly cadenced -- are so pristine, it's easy to see why a writer would be drawn to them. And in The Unexpected Man, playwright Yasmina Reza (she wrote the witty Art) devotes almost all of her 90-minute one-act to such flights of rhetoric. At times self-deprecatory and occasionally self-revealing, the alternating monologues of two unacquainted passengers sharing a train compartment from Paris to Frankfurt present a juicy challenge for a pair of actors at Cesear's Forum. And the play piques interest, even if it ultimately seems to be less than a sum of its interesting parts.

The two passengers include an elderly gentleman and novelist -- a man known for his bitter, acerbic take on life -- and a not-so-young woman. She is a faithful reader of his books and recognizes him from the moment they begin sharing their traveling space. However, she does not have the gumption to engage him in conversation, afraid she will make a fool of herself.

So we hear each of them in turn as they share their thoughts, from the small irritations -- his troubles with the poop shoot, her frustrations with a married potential paramour -- to more weighty matters. He is troubled by his negative appearance, complaining that "even the curl of my lip is bitter." Meanwhile, she is mourning the loss of her pal Serge, an older man who was apparently as much of a curmudgeon as her idealized seatmate.

Director Greg Cesear keeps the pacing brisk and expands the staging, moving his actors between a small two-chair platform upstage and a larger area where they have room to stride and gesture. Unfortunately, something is lost by abandoning the compression imposed by a more literal train compartment. It would have forced the players to find ways to deal with uncomfortable physical intimacy.

The two performances are intelligent and nuanced, bringing out much of the script's intricacies. Glenn Colerider is an elegant silver fox, finding much of the humor in his lines. But he doesn't fully inhabit the persona of a true Euro pessimist; with all his posturing, he remains a bit soft at the center. As the woman, Linda Castro negotiates a number of moments with a sly, wounded precision that brings her character into sharp focus. And toward the end, she makes a case for the author's negative slant on existence that he couldn't have phrased better.

Even though the welcome final interchange is a bit startling, there's a hollowness that remains afterward. Perhaps that can't be avoided when two characters live most of a play in their own heads.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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