The Unexpected Man: A silent journey


Despite no exchange of dialogues between the two lead characters, ‘The Unexpected Man’ is a powerful play that raises questions about communication in our times, writes Prof. Avinash Kolhe.

Some plays demand a lot from the actors as there is no conventional ‘action’ in such plays. Yasmina Reza’s ‘The Unexpected Man’, written in 1995, is one such rare play which the actors have to carry on their shoulders under the baton of a talented director. Padma Damodaran has managed to pull off this challenging task beautifully.

The production house, Red Earth Stories, established last year by Padma Damodaran and Sadiya Siddiquie, two well-known actresses, has mounted this play. This French play has been translated in English by Christopher Hampton, Reza’s long-time collaborator.

The story of ‘The Unexpected Man’ takes place in a train compartment which is going from Paris to Frankfurt. This journey normally takes a couple of hours. During this journey there is a middle-aged man and middle-aged woman in the train compartment who do not talk to each other at all, but talk all the while to audience through what is called ‘internal monologue’. The couple do not move much on the stage, there is only one frugal set and the light design is simple. And yet, Yasmina Reza’s powerful and philosophical script manages to hold the attention of the audience for nearly 80 minutes superbly.

Yasmina Reza (born 1959) is a renowned Paris-based playwright who has to her credit brilliant plays like ‘Art’ and ‘God of Carnage’. The latter is such a powerful play that Roman Polansky made it into a movie ‘Carnage’, which was released in India in 2012.

The play

Parsky, a writer and Martha, Parsky`s fan are fellow travellers. Both are travelling by train to Frankfurt. Martha is a huge admirer of Parsky and carries his latest novel ‘The Unexpected Man’ in her handbag. In the beginning it appears to be a typical ‘stranger-in-a-train’ play. She is seated across the author who hardly notices her presence, engrossed as he is in his own world. Parsky has been a part of her inner world, a man she seems to know better than her own friends. Says she “I have spent my life with you, Mr Parsky”. This admission adds a whole new dimension to the play as he is not a stranger to Martha, at least. And yet she does not muster enough courage to talk to him as she fears that it may destroy the image she carries of Parsky.

And yet both speak silently about themselves. Parsky, the ever-complaining middle-aged author is angry with everything under the sun. He is infamous for being anti-social and even bitter. Martha, an admirer of Parsky, the author is in awe of him and secretly worried that the real persona of author may not be what image she has in her mind. Though she desperately wants to talk to him, she is paralyzed by a combination of awe and a sense of that her fantasies of who he is might prove far superior to the reality. Parsky has always stayed in his inner world, contemplating his family problems and a friend’s response to his latest novel which is not very complimentary.
How does the play end? Well, as it should end with no action taking place. There cannot be a conventional end to such a play. It ends when the possibilities of dialogue are exhausted. In a way it is the play of our times when communication has lost its appeal. In a strange way, The Unexpected Man raises some worrying, existentialist issues: is communication possible in our times? Is it even necessary? Why do we communicate? Can we really communicate? And there are no answers to such questions.

Padma Damodaran has directed the play and has also essayed the role of Martha. Naved Aslam (Parsky) is lovable as the ever-complaining author. The set design of the train coach has been aptly done by Prasad Walavalkar while the light design by Deepa Dharmadhikari is mellow and is in tune with the mood of the play.

Prof. Avinash Kolhe

Prof. Avinash Kolhe retired as Associate Professor in Political Science from D.G. Ruparel College, Mumbai