‘An Accident’ yields mild emotional effect 

When actor Arwen Anderson, as a patient in a hospital bed, starts to speak at the beginning of Lydia Stryk’s world premiere, “An Accident” at the Magic Theatre, a distance is immediately established between her character, Libby, and the audience.

Libby, you see, is just gaining consciousness following an accident. She doesn’t know her own name and is suddenly realizing that she’s completely paralyzed. “I don’t have a body, folks,” she quips, even though no other characters are in the room to be amused by her flippant remark.

So, Libby is the kind of person who covers up pain by joking. We also find out very soon — when Anton, the man who accidentally ran over her (as she was dashing across a highway) shows up to visit her — that she’s sarcastic, hostile and provocative.

But it’s hard to believe anyone in Libby’s situation would be making jokes in this situation (being jacked up on morphine notwithstanding), unless the play were a black comedy, or clearly nonrealistic in some way.

But it’s not. Rather, it’s a fairly realistic two-hander about an arduous journey toward healing in which the relationship between patient and perp (a mild-mannered history teacher who’s seeking a sort of redemption) evolves bumpily over the course of many torturous bedside visits.

Author Stryk herself was the victim in a similar accident, so she knows whereof she writes.

Throughout the play, Libby does have moments of fear and fury — but, interspersed as they are among the many short scenes in which she taunts the awkward Anton (Tim Kniffin) and makes bantering remarks to an empty room, they fail to register significantly.

Nor are the Magic Theatre actors, under Rob Melrose’s usually astute direction, able to transcend the fundamental artificiality of the lines to convey believable feelings. At least on opening night, their intermittent outbursts felt inorganic.

A few edgy and intriguing scenes hint at a Pinteresque sense of underlying violence and the ultimate mystery of human impulses — a direction that the play seems to want to go but never quite does.

Stryk has chosen an oblique, quirky approach to exploring two people’s existential despair. But she hasn’t created a consistent enough theatrical style to make these characters — and their accidental connection — affecting.

THEATER REVIEW
An Accident

Presented by Magic Theatre

Where: Fort Mason Building D, Buchanan Street and Marina Boulevard, San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes May 9
Tickets: $25 to $55
Contact: (415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org

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