Moral uncertainty gets a 360 degree inspection in “The Accident,” an intense and satisfying drama by Israeli author Hillel Mitelpunkt receiving its English-language premiere at Theater J. Adapted by a.d. Ari Roth, the play is the centerpiece of the D.C. theater’s Voices From a Changing Middle East festival.
On a dark and empty road in the Israeli countryside, a fast-moving car strikes a pedestrian, killing him instantly. The three occupants, all career-minded professionals, conspire to flee the scene, a decision based partly on their stereotyped view of the victim, a lowly Chinese laborer.
The incident sets up an intriguing dialogue about guilt and integrity within a society wrestling with such issues on a larger scale. Originally written in Hebrew, the 2003 play’s perspective is decidedly unflattering. As the car’s three occupants maintain silence on the tragedy, each is blithely pursuing an extramarital affair with another’s spouse or grown child.
What follows is an ingeniously contrived scenario that examines this morality treatise under class and generational microscopes. Yet as the multiple infidelities play out, the nagging specter of the unfortunate highway victim keeps emotions tense. Indeed, the entire stage of Tony Cisek’s set is an asphalt road illuminated periodically by two ominous headlights blazing toward the audience.
In lesser hands, “Accident” could become a maudlin and tedious exercise, but director Sinai Peter carefully reins in his expert cast, which includes Becky Peters and Paul Morella as an unhappy career-minded couple. Peters offers a delicious performance as a defiantly unrepentant cheater, while Morella presents a morally ambiguous lout wrestling with only some of his misdeeds.
Jennifer Mendenhall and Michael Tolaydo render astute performances as the other damaged couple, while Eliza Bell is just right as the conscientious daughter whose revulsion over the adults’ denial unravels every scheme.