Cross-Frown Traffic: The Accident?s hit-and-run plot is dour indeed.

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In Israeli playwright Hillel Mittelpunkt’s coolly clinical tale of moral cowardice among a group of friends involved in a hit and run, a lot depends on the opening minutes. Those minutes take place just after the hit but before the run, as three well-off residents of Tel Aviv—the explosive Lior (Paul Morella), the opportunistic Tami (Becky Peters) and the confused Adam (Michael Tolaydo)—stand over the body of the man struck by their car, debating what to do. We watch as, in their own ways, the characters all lock into self-preservation mode without stopping a moment for guilt. We’re meant to note that absence, and we do—but it doesn’t land with the weight it should, and this crucial missed opportunity detracts in a big way from the scenes that follow. It’s likely Mittelpunkt wants to make a larger, perhaps satirical point of his characters’ towering selfishness, but Director Sinai Peter asserts the idea so flatly it barely registers. When Lior and Tami start bickering over the corpse like the long-married couple they are, it doesn’t seem like a particularly absurd, petty thing for them to be doing—but you get the sense that it should. You get that sense a lot as The Accident proceeds, and the characters continue to treat one another as thoughtlessly as they treated the corpse. Morella’s Lior seldom rises above slimy and self-serving, Peters’ Tami is willfully cruel, and Tolaydo plays Adam as a befuddled, feckless liar. These are fine performances, but they’re marked by a seriousness that seems somehow dutiful, as if the play’s political aspects make the actors reluctant to stake out more room to play. A larger concern is that these characters, for all their oft-spouted intellectual/artistic/liberal bona fides, are intentionally banal, bourgeois creations, and much of the action—too much—revolves around their repetitive squabbling and adulterous deceptions. Fortunately, Mittelpunkt provides the play with a fascinating moral and emotional center in the person of Adam’s wife Nira, and more fortunately, she’s played by Jennifer Mendenhall. With that character (and that actor) onstage, the play finds its subject, the director his tone, and the actors their A-game; a scene in which Mendenhall and Peters confront each other at a café is pretty damn wonderful, laced with fire and humor and pain. In the end, The Accident’s characters become interesting only during moments like that one, when they’re forced to confront themselves and their crimes. That their capacity for self-deception makes such moments rare is, of course, the whole point. But this production only intermittently manages to drive that point home and never offers a compelling reason to give a damn.