Remember when Nick Nolte was nearly set to star in The Unexpected Man on Broadway? Remember when Ben Gazzara was rumored to star in a Roundabout Theatre Company mounting of The Unexpected Man at the Gramercy Theatre? Remember way back to December 1998, when Eileen Atkins was a definite to star in The Unexpected Man at the Promenade Theatre?
Well, that last, earliest prediction is the one that came true — albeit a year later than expected. Atkins, who has been with the project since its London mounting by Matthew Warchus in spring 1998, now stars in The Unexpected Man, which opened to mostly excellent reviews Oct. 24 at Off-Broadway's Promenade Theatre quickly announced an extension of its limited run. The play, which began previews Oct. 10 and was to end Dec. 31, runs to Jan. 28, 2001.
Producers Julian Schlossberg and Ben Sprecher have also announced that The Unexpected Man has “recouped its investment” and is playing to “100 percent capacity business,” making the play a hit in both literal and figurative terms. According to spokespersons, plans for a national tour are expected to be announced by late January.
Director Warchus’ credits include Art and the recent True West. Atkins' co-star is Alan Bates, a Tony winner for 1973's Butley and a film star via "An Unmarried Woman" and "Women in Love." Atkins' credits include Vita & Virginia (opposite Vanessa Redgrave), and Tony nominated turns in Indiscretions, The Killing of Sister George and Vivat! Vivat Regina!.
Rehearsals for the current mounting began in London, Sept. 5. The West End production of Unexpected Man had starred Atkins and Michael Gambon, with Atkins winning the Olivier Award as Best Actress in a Play for her performance as the lifelong fan of a writer who finds herself sitting across from him on a train. The play's running time is just under 90 minutes, with no intermission. As it was in London, Christopher Hampton's English translation is being employed, as is the design team that did Broadway's Art: Mark Thompson (sets and costumes) and Hugh Vanstone (lighting). Gary Yershon has provided original music.
Asked about how it all finally came together, producer Julian Schlossberg told Playbill On-Line in June, "It's not sudden, believe me. I don't produce suddenly." Schlossberg's co-producers are Ben Sprecher, Ted Tulchin and William P. Miller.
The Unexpected Man puts two middle-aged people in a train compartment: a celebrated, self-involved but neurotic novelist and a lady who’s dying to talk to him but is afraid to start a conversation. Most of the play is given over to their interior monologues; they begin talking to each other only in the final few minutes.
For tickets and information on The Unexpected Man at the Promenade Theatre, Broadway and 76th Street, call (212) 239-6200.
-- By David Lefkowitz