An Accident

Poster-FINAL-web522Step into this bad dream: a debilitating pedestrian accident. In An Accident, Lydia Stryk draws on her own accident experience to place both in an injured woman’s hospital room. This unsettling dramatic juxtaposition allows both the inner thoughts and conversations of two people who sometimes never meet in such circumstances.

An Accident ultimately provides a rare dialogue about things that matter. Questions get asked aloud, fears and dreams are shared, and regret and hope mingle. The characters wonder what they might do differently if they’d known this would happen. This is an evening of fine, focused acting, so do try to see this production as off the WALL productions begins its second decade.

Upon entering the theater and before the lights go down, the audience sees Libby (Amy Landis) is trapped in her hospital bed. We don’t know how long she’s been there or when “it” happened.

Anton (Ken Bolden) is sitting in her room at lights up, coming to the hospital sometime after hitting her with his car. The details of the incident roll out over the action with less emphasis placed on time span and more on how Libby and Anton are connected through something horrific.

Landis delivers a multi-dimensioned performance over the course of her character’s journey, much of it with barely lifting a hand. Landis’ early Libby–before she can move anything but her eyes and expression–is a tall order for any actor. It’s always most difficult to do the least and Landis draw us in immediately to Libby’s dilemma using her facial facilities to reach us without any other movement. Most certainly medicated, Libby moves from cloudy awakening to recognition that she may or may not walk or dance again to regaining a sharp, sassy, and determined personality aptly crafted by Landis. She’s always curious about Anton and asks him questions throughout the play.

It seems Anton regularly comes to the hospital, making it his environment as well as hers. She at first calls him “the jerk who ruined my life” then becomes somewhat dependent on his presence as she remembers no one else in her life. He admits guilt: “I did this to you, this terrible unforgivable thing” even as he become dependent on Libby in his life.

Bolden has the advantage of mobility but at first his Anton is also frozen, unable to take his hands out of his pockets whether sitting in Libby’s room or the bench. Anton’s journey mirrors Libby’s in some ways but the tension and appreciation between the two is a fascinating dance. We wondered if we would show up as Anton does in this situation and keep returning. We also realize that there would be no play if Libby had sent him packing when she woke up. It’s a rare set-up, but Stryk well chooses how to explore the characters’ questions and emotions.

One of our region’s venerable actors, Bolden delivers a wonderfully nuanced and multi-layered characterization, bringing a sympathetic humanity to Anton. Bolden convey’s Anton’s tentative involvement expertly while sharing his own disappointments in moments. He speaks of his daughter, but that relationship seems awkward, too. Anton moves from tentative curiosity to determined committed. There’s a warmth and shift as Bolden conveys Anton’s embrace of the role of healer.  Anton is someone we don’t dislike; it’s hard not to give him credit for showing up and sticking by Libby, albeit painful and awkward, as when Libby offers Anton cherries from a nurse’s garden. He returns even after Libby (rightfully) lashes out at him. Bolden is expert in capturing the ongoing conflicts in Anton–guilt, loneliness, hope, and frustration.

Nurse (Hilary Caldwell) comes and goes to adjust the bed, move pillows, and provide other support as hospital nurses do. Caldwell is efficient, as a good nurse should be. We aren’t distracted by Libby having conversations with her or other characters such as doctors  coming in to look at medical charts or discuss procedures. We learn of Libby’s medical prognosis and recovery in other ways, keeping the story focused on her interaction with Anton.

As Libby’s privacy is already compromised by living in a hospital gown, it’s not so surprising when she asks Anton for some physical affection in another touching but oddly private moment when we can’t leave Libby’s room.

We wonder who will be the more empowered survivor of this journey. His response when Libby finally leaves the room represents a caregiver’s’ loss of purpose and the reality that we are really only left with ourselves.

Linda Haston’s direction is indeed accurate as she and scenic designer Adrienne Fischer uses the broad playing space to advantage. Things are kept simple and practical, suggesting how things must be in a hospital room.  Things only move when Libby’s recovery allows for it. And there’s a precious window through which Libby watches non-hospital bound people carry on while she’s bedridden. Outside she sees the bench from which Anton shares some of his thoughts and sometimes watches her window until the light is dimmed.

The pace requires our care and attention, as in when we are indeed the patient in recovery or the guest trying to do the right thing when visiting the hospital. The playwright has discussed how accidents change us. These unexpected happenings–whether minor or life-threatening–take an immeasurable toll on lives and futures.

Bob Steineck’s lighting is just right for the two main spaces of the action as well the pre-curtain setting that brings us in into Libby’s room. Costumes by Kara Sinclair are spot on (including hospital fashions and Anton’s nerdish teacher wardrobe) and Kim Crawford’s props include the essential items for a long-term private room stay.

Certainly anyone who’s recently been in these situations may find the story uncomfortable, but it seems most audience members would relate to this part of life and how such circumstances indeed strip us to simply care for and listen to one another. Some commented how they exactly understood Anton’s reaction when left alone in Libby’s room.

The intimate 96-seat venue, Carnegie Stage, is home of year-round off the WALL productions and a myriad of events near the convenient dining and free parking (after 5 pm) in Carnegie. Now that the I-76 exit for Carnegie has been reopened, it’s easy to check out off the WALL and the vibrant arts and social scene in a small town with a main street.

Thank you to off the wall for a pair of complementary opening night tickets.

An Accident by Lydia Stryk runs through Sat., Oct. 29. For tickets and more information, click here.