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The Unexpected Man: A Romantic Thriller on a Train

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A man and woman get on a train -- strangers -- and end up in the same compartment. Neither one is a kid; each is having a crisis of sorts. He's a famous writer uncertain if he should continue the same old, same old. She's equally ready for a change and has decided to perhaps break free of all the parameters she (or was it society) has forced upon herself.

As it turns out, she's a fan of his, has read everything he's written and in fact has his latest book in her purse. Not exactly good news for a man who's set aside time for introspection.

There are no intermissions, no entrances or exits, visiting director Seth Gordon promises. For 75 minutes in this one-act play, the audience at Stages Repertory Theatre will watch as actors James Belcher and Sally Edmundson play characters who meet in the forced intimacy of strangers during a train ride from Paris to Frankfurt.

Belcher, a member of the Alley Theatre company who occasionally takes on roles at Stages (A Picasso), says The Unexpected Man, written by French playwright Yasmina Reza (Art, God of Carnage), has a "script...so challenging it scares you."

Edmundsen (seen in the title role of Mame at Stages) says she decided to take on the role after Stages Managing and Producing Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin called and told her he thought he'd found the right script for her, and after reading it, she agreed.

Director Seth Gordon, the associate artistic director of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, says he saw the London production of the play and fell in love with it. "It's a romance for middle-aged people, and that's something you rarely see." He showed the play to McLaughlin, who agreed it was worth doing.

"As James was saying, this is the most elemental type of drama there can be," Gordon said. "There are two people in a place. Both of their lives are at breaking points. And they meet and they connect. I refer to it as a romantic thriller because it's a very, very romantic set of circumstances and it is a situation that if we do it right, the audience will be filled with suspense about what happens next."

Gordon acknowledged that Reza is celebrated far more for God of Carnage and Art. "This is a play that when it came to New York was off-Broadway and had a relatively brief run. It just didn't get the traction. I feel very privileged that Kenn agreed to do it.

"Her [Reza's] plays have a certain cynicism to them. You would almost suspect that this was written under a pen name. This one feels personal, more connected. "

Previews of The Unexpected Man are scheduled for April 18 and 19, with performances April 20 through May 13 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For ticket information, call 713-527-0123 or visit www.stagesthreatre.com.

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