We wake to the great news of a rave review above the fold on the front page of the Style section. We are so pleased and so grateful to everyone who’s made this show such a refined signature play for us. What’s most funny is that by the end of this review, our treasured Post critic is on a first name basis with the director, calling him “Sinai” just like we do (though his editor may have been entirely out to lunch!). We’re really pleased, relieved, proud, and perhaps still emotionally exhausted from the whole endeavor with this heart-breaking and deeply resonant play. I think we all gave something deep to this show, and it took something out of us too. Its success now should fill us to the brim with a sense of collective achievement. More than anything, congratulations to Hillel and Sinai and the team, and our amazing cast. Bravo!
By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, February 13, 2009; Page C01
“The Accident” begins with a man fatally run over on a dark Israeli road, and it comes as a surprise that the victim is Chinese. In the panicked discussion that follows, the three Jewish intellectuals who were in the vehicle desperately parse the jeopardy they’re in. Does the ethnicity of the body matter?
Those and other fraught questions are considered with hushed urgency in Hillel Mitelpunkt’s gripping moral drama, which is part of Theater J’s ongoing Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival. The play, which thickens its plot with some juicy marital infidelities, casts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as barely discernible background noise as it explores the particular tensions and exigencies of Israel’s modern privileged classes.
The accident is, as these things tend to be, the wreck that keeps on wrecking. Tony Cisek’s set uses an asphalt road as the floor, underlining the fact that these people can’t wholly escape the scene of the crime. Lior, the drunken New Year’s Eve driver, is persuaded to flee the scene by his wife, Tami. Adam, the owner of the car, isn’t so sure (he, too, was drunk, but asleep in the back). Whether they can live with this decision, or even keep it a secret, drives this satisfyingly old-fashioned drama.
Director Sinai Peter seems to intuit the slippery ground he’s on — a little too much from the actors and the whole thing could turn into slushy melodrama. The cast plays it beautifully: The barbed byplay alone between Paul Morella’s Lior and Becky Peters’s Tami is rich and believable, with lines casually dropped like grenades in a marriage that’s like a two-person war zone.
Social class matters: These people are high-fliers, most of whom deliver lectures or business pitches during the course of the play, aided by lively graphics on the sleek set’s back wall. Tami’s a ballistics expert — “a smart bomb in the flesh,” as Adam admiringly calls her — and Adam is making a documentary about the Israeli army. Nira, Adam’s wife, labors to preserve library treasures from a sudden flood. It’s a highly cultured bunch, quick-witted and expert at high-stakes debate.
Somehow, the actors keep off the soapbox, coolly underplaying Mitelpunkt’s dialogue (translated by David Berkoff and adapted by Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth) until a character absolutely has to explode. The result is a taut, intelligent performance that has the audience leaning forward almost all night. Michael Tolaydo is terrific as Adam, fully sympathetic as a man who has betrayed himself, and Jennifer Mendenhall combines the sadness of an abandoned woman with the steel of hard experience in a riveting showdown with Peters’s formidable Tami.
That exchange features some of Mitelpunkt’s sharpest writing, with a personal power struggle suddenly taking on wider implications. The presence of children adds weight to the decisions that the older generation makes: Lior and Tami are adopting, while Shiri, the grown daughter of Adam and Nira, plays a surprisingly pivotal role in the story’s unraveling.
Eliza Bell is perfectly monstrous and idealistic as Shiri, the kind of human mixture that keeps you interested in these figures even when the dramaturgy threatens to become too pat.
Maybe the circle of deceit is drawn a trifle too tightly at times. And maybe now and then, a polished speech comes off as the proud product of an authorial voice. No matter — Sinai and the actors know exactly how to play each shade of guilt. The result is a shrewd, quietly haunting piece of theater.
The Accident, by Hillel Mitelpunkt; translated by David Berkoff; adapted for the stage by Ari Roth. Directed by Sinai Peter. Lighting design, Martha Mountain; costumes, Gili Cochavi; composer, Hanna Hakohen; sound design, Chris Baine. About two hours. Through March 8 at Goldman Theater, D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1629 16th St. NW. Call 800-494-TIXS or visit http://www.boxofficetickets.com.