Theater Review: ‘An Accident’ at Magic Theatre, San Francisco

Arwen Anderson and Tim Kniffin in Lydia Stryk's An Accident at Magic Theatre. Director: Rob Melrose / Photo: Jennifer Reiley.
Arwen Anderson and Tim Kniffin in Lydia Stryk's An Accident at Magic Theatre. Director: Rob Melrose / Photo: Jennifer Reiley.
In Review

An Accident

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars - 'Sweet Stuff'
Magic Theatre, San Francisco
Directed by Rob Melrose
Starring Arwen Anderson and Tim Kniffin
By Lydia Stryk
www.magictheatre.org
Review by
Arwen Anderson and Tim Kniffin in Lydia Stryk's An Accident at Magic Theatre. Director: Rob Melrose / Photo: Jennifer Reiley.
Arwen Anderson and Tim Kniffin in Lydia Stryk's An Accident at Magic Theatre. Director: Rob Melrose / Photo: Jennifer Reiley.

Magic Theatre brings a strong season to a close with An Accident, a visceral and emotional story about recovery, memories and, even discovery of the self. Introspective at times, and often seething with cynical humor, the production by playwright Lydia Stryk is uncompromisingly human in its portrayal of a woman, Libby (Arwen Anderson), trying to recover from an accident.

Anton (Tim Kniffin), who hit her with his Toyota Corolla, is dealing with his own demons. He sits in the park with pangs of guilt, unsure how to move forward with his life which has been a bit of a disaster itself. Thankfully he still has the classroom where he teaches history, a true passion that ignites all his senses.

An unlikely relationship blossoms between the two as Anton feels compelled to make repeated visits to her sterile, fluorescent hospital room.

Libby though is angry. “I’m not grateful to be alive,” she says.

How can Anton feel any sorrow whatsoever when she’s bed stricken, her life forever changed?

Arwen Anderson in Lydia Stryk's An Accident at Magic Theatre. Director: Rob Melrose / Photo: Jennifer Reiley.
Arwen Anderson in Lydia Stryk's An Accident at Magic Theatre. Director: Rob Melrose / Photo: Jennifer Reiley.

An Accident takes us on a roller-coaster of emotion. It’s all here: guilt, sorrow, remorse, fear, shame, longing and desire. That such rich feelings and dialog are juxtaposed against drab surroundings help accentuate the impact.

Thankfully you’ll never see conventional, old-fashioned fare at Magic. And, once again, this production pushes the envelope.

It’s an adult play where, like Oedipus El Ray, the actors reveal themselves emotionally, and at least for Arwen, also physically; a striking scene no doubt that is simultaneously loving and touching but also oddly awkward and, perhaps for many, uncomfortable. But its truth cannot be denied. It’s powerful and riveting theater.

Is it fate or a miracle?

Cherries figure prominently in the story, both literally and metaphorically. There are some wonderful scenes involving them. One at the beginning as Anton describes his recollection of the accident, and then again later when a “gift” triggers an on-rush of guilt.

We feel sympathy for Libby, but Lydia Stryk’s script adds layers of grey; at times we loathe Libby. Has she become a monster? Or is this bittersweet journey just part-and-parcel of making it through to the other side?

The ending will be a mixed bag for some I’m sure. For me, it works, primarily because it’s not cliche. Like everything before, it emotes the handiwork of an inventive creative team, and leaves open much possibility. It’s how you react to it. It’s personal. Loni and I both had different reactions and interpretations, and that’s part of the pleasure with An Accident.

Both actors shine. More so individually, however. Tim Kniffin is charismatic and likable as the nervous, twitchy Anton; dressed University casual. His stylish  gray mane, and often squinted eyes reminds of a younger, lanky brother to Richard Gere. Arwen Anderson does wonders to build an entire character with mostly head movements. It’s well done. And I should note that she is on stage the entire production; it’s a vulnerable and mesmerizing performance. But, when the two are together I didn’t quite feel the emotional impact that ought to have been there. Maybe, like a wine, after some breathing, the chemistry will gel and feel more relaxed.

We met by accident.

Rob Melrose directs, and is able to extract every ounce out of the actors and script that he can.

It was another successful opening night at Magic Theatre. Live theater is indeed a special experience. Like the opening announcement suggested, we should be thankful that challenging, interesting material continues to flood the Bay Area giving us yet another good reason to escape from reality television.

An Accident
Magic Theatre, San Francisco
3.5 out of 5 stars
By Lydia Stryk
Directed by Rob Melrose
Starring Arwen Anderson and Tim Kniffin
www.magictheatre.org
80 minutes, no intermission
Through May 9, 2010

Noteworthy
  • I last saw Arwen Andersen in Ms. Whitney, but she was far better in An Accident, perhaps better cast. A fine performance.
  • The Magic stage continues in its thrust configuration for this production; it creates an intimate feeling, but it can also be a toss-up for those in house right or left; invariably you’ll miss something (for example, down the hospital hall) if you don’t have the correct vantage point.
  • Music and sound are minimal; in between scenes short feature musical bits that I described in my notes as “New Age Medical Fusion”.
  • An Accident is the last play of Magic’s 09/10 season; my favorite was Goldfish starring Rod Gnapp and Anna Bullard; Loni’s was Oedipus El Ray – there was a not a dud in the lot.
  • Next Season starts Sept. 9: The Brothers Size; Or,; What We’re Up Against; The Lily’s Revenge
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