Hillel Mittlepunkt’s “The Accident” at Theater J

We first saw this place in a reading about two years ago, when it was one of a number of plays considered for full staging at Theater J.  I thought it was a very strong piece of work, and recommended it be accepted for production.

We saw the full production last night.

Washington Post critic Nelson Pressley and others have given the play very positive reviews.  While I won’t dispute their opinions, I will say that I thought that the play was at least as strong, and perhaps stronger, at its reading.  Now it could be that, as I knew the play from before, the lack of the element of surprise accounts for my somewhat less than overly enthusiastic views.  That may very well be the case.

The basic premise of The Accident is perfectly established to set up the moral and ethical questions with which the play deals.  Two men and a woman, at 3 a.m., driving a lonely road, drunk, moving much faster than the law allows, hits and kills a man.  The play takes place in Israel; the man is clearly Chinese.  He is clearly dead.  There is no one else around.  What should they do?

One of the men, the driver, and the woman are married.  They clearly don’t want to call the authorities.  The other man disagrees, but gives in.  They decide not to tell anyone, including the wife of the second man.

OK, this is a terrific premise.  And the lack of sharing this information with family members has disastrous consequences, as you might expect.  But there is another plot as well.  The married couple involved in the accident hate each other.  The other couple just appears weary of each other, although the man is in love with the first woman, who apparently reciprocates…..more or less.  But it doesn’t stop here.  The first man is also in love with another woman.  He is in love with the daughter of the other couple.

There is great dialogue.  But it is also pretty silly, almost farce-like, which, while entertaining, does, I think, take a bit from the moral problem caused by the failure to report the consequences of the accident.

This is an Israeli play.  At the reading, it seemed clearly Israeli. Last night, though, and putting aside a few place name references, it could have taken place anywhere.  The Israeli locale is important, I think, because the people involved, liberal (‘lefty’, in Israeli parlance), intellectual, extremely secular, do typify a segment of the Israeli populace.  It is a segment that is growing smaller in Israel (unfortunately) and is more and more alienated within the country from the majority of the population, and very concerned about the future direction of the country.  The inability of the characters to deal with moral issues, including their personal moral issues, represents this lack of connection.  But I think this was somewhat lost in the performance.

Would I recommend others see the play?  Absolutely.  Even with my criticisms, The Accident provides an enjoyable and challenging theater evening.  The cast is extremely strong and, although I think that there was an insufficient amount of visible sexual energy between them based on their physical looks and general personalities, I believe that each played his or her part well considering those limitations.

I think the play could be improved and would bet that one day it will be, but even as it is now, it is worth your time and attention.

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