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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


The Unexpected Man

Yasmina Reza

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To purchase The Unexpected Man

Title: The Unexpected Man
Author: Yasmina Reza
Genre: Drama
Written: 1995 (Eng. 1998)
Length: 71 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Unexpected Man - US
The Unexpected Man - UK
The Unexpected Man - Canada
L'homme du hasard - Canada
L'homme du hasard - France
  • Translated by Christopher Hampton
  • French title: L'homme du hasard
  • The British première was on April 8, 1998 at The Pit, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and starring Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon

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Our Assessment:

B : a small, fairly interesting piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian B- 16/4/1998 Michael Billington
The LA Times B- 21/9/2001 Michael Phillips
New York B 6/10/2000 John Simon
The New Yorker A 6/11/2000 Nancy Franklin
NY Press A- 1/11/2000 Jonathan Kalb
The NY Times B- 25/10/2000 Ben Brantley
San Francisco Chronicle . 15/7/2009 Robert Hurwitt
USA Today B- 28/7/1998 David Patrick Stearns
The Village Voice D 7/11/2000 Michael Feingold
Wall St. Journal A- 25/10/2000 Amy Gamerman
The Washington Post B 25/10/2000 Lloyd Rose

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, though generally fairly positive. Most seem to agree that it works better on the page than on the stage.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(C)ivilised, elegant, but a bit too self-consciously exquisite for my carnivorous taste." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "Reza's musings operate on twin tracks of suspense, or something like it (.....) Its musings on life and loss and chance offer shards of feeling here and there, a hint or two of lives lived. But in general, the musings are general. The characters remain moderately intriguing ciphers." - Michael Phillips, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Most meaningless plays are written by unintelligent people. Yasmina Reza's The Unexpected Man is different: It is a meaningless play written by an intelligent person, even a gifted one, as Miss Reza proved with Art. But there she had a subject. In the current piece, she has absolutely nothing to say but says it civilizedly and with a certain adroitness." - John Simon, New York

  • "It's one thing to write dialogue that works; Reza has managed to write thoughts that work -- the characters' streams of words share an in-and-out-of-focus quality, and yet are as crucially unalike and individual as keys that look the same but open different doors." - Nancy Franklin, The New Yorker

  • "For all its occasional evasiveness, this is a comelling work, a pungent and perceptive inquiry into the strange links between desire, invention and self-invention." - Jonathan Kalb, New York Press

  • "Those expecting to laugh steadily as they did at Art, however, should know that Man isn't nearly as audience-friendly. It is more formal in its structure, a series of alternating interior monologues, and more pointed in its cosmic concerns. This means that its air of importance is more glaringly out of proportion to what it ultimately has to say." - Ben Brantley, The New York Times

  • "Man is a play about nothing and everything, a comic-poignant drama of missed or possible connections negotiated through the trenchant, dyspeptic, profound and banal musings of two strangers on a train. Reza's text is rich in unexpectedly low-key delights." - Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(E)ven this play's naughtiness -- the author's interior musings are more scatological than lofty -- is more predictable than endearing. The Unexpected Man does effectively explore the perceived safety of distance and the kinds of barriers we erect against each other in middle age. But such musings don't lend themselves to stage action. (...) Reza's writing -- at least as adapted from French to English by linguist/playwright Christopher Hampton -- is better read than heard. Even at its most probing, it lacks the visceral impact needed for the theater." - David Patrick Stearns, USA Today

  • "Nothing could be less than The Unexpected Man, an evasion of dramatic responsibility that would amount to consumer fraud if you didn't get to see two English stars." - Michael Feingold, The Village Voice

  • "The Unexpected Man, (...) in an agile translation by Christopher Hampton, has the understated elegance and impeccable tailoring of an expensive dress. (...) More than anything else The Unexpected Man is a play about writing, and the struggle to connect through writing; for that matter, it's a play about reading." - Amy Gamerman, Wall Street Journal

  • "Matthew Warchus directs this series of beguiling and witty speeches as if it were a real play with some density to it." - Lloyd Rose, The Washington Post

Please note and bear in mind that reviews of dramas often refer to specific performances rather than to the written work itself. (Note also that complete review's reviews refer specifically to the written text.)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the
complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Yasmina Reza's play takes place in a train compartment, its two characters bound for Frankfurt. Much of the play, until the very end, is made up of internal monologues as the man and the woman alternately reveal their thoughts to the audience (but not one another).
       He is Parsky, a novelist whose latest work, The Unexpected Man, the woman, Martha, is currently reading and has in her bag. She is uncertain whether or not to take her book from the bag -- and then whether to reveal that she recognizes him, or pretend she doesn't. Fiction, larger than life, imposes itself on fact.
       There is little give and take of dialogue here, as each character rambles on (to themselves and the audience, rather than each other). But Reza writes well, and the thoughts expressed are fairly interesting. The author questions his own writing, while the woman affirms their value. The difficulty of communication is naturally also a topic, and Reza handles it well.
       A short piece, it reads well. The constraints of the play -- so much of it consisting of internal monologues, without interaction between the characters -- probably make it easier to enjoy if read, rather than seen. It presumably requires considerable skill to translate successfully to the stage and a bad performance of this seems like it might be one long longueur. Nevertheless, the play gives pause and is food for thought. Not remarkable, but certainly decent enough.

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The Unexpected Man: Reviews: Yasmina Reza: Other Books by Yasmina Reza under Review Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of Drama at the complete review
  • See the index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Yasmina Reza, born in 1959, achieved her first great success with the play 'Art'. She has also written fiction and screenplays.

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