The Unexpected Man, Apple Tree Theatre. This new play by Yasmina Reza, who also wrote Art, is so slight that if not anchored by substantial performances it will simply float away. Fortunately, William Brown and Peggy Roeder as its two characters--a midlist author and his biggest fan, who happen to share a train compartment--touchingly reveal all the ways we project our fantasies and hopes onto other people. While the unnamed man frets over minutiae--his daughter's much older boyfriend, others' reservations about his new book, his digestion--the woman engages in an imaginary conversation with him about the meaning of life as expressed in that book, which she doesn't quite have the nerve to read in the author's elevated presence. Director Ross Lehman manages to keep the evening from feeling static despite its challenging format--alternating monologues in a confined space--and the actors give funny, thoughtful readings of Reza's droll observations about aging, loneliness, and loss.
Here as in Art, Reza dissects the mysteries of the creative act and of responses to it, and she's acute about the inevitable shortfalls in relationships--as the woman dryly observes, "Desire always outstrips what actually happens." But despite the script's literate cleverness, it lacks the heft of a full-length play. The man himself suggests that their situation is fodder for a short story rather than a novel. Good thing neither Lehman nor Reza lets the piece go on too long, then--indeed, the performances leave us wishing for more.