Dramaturgy notes on THE ACCIDENT

from playwright Hillel Mitelpunkt’s letter sent on the first day of rehearsals:

Dear Actors,
This play isn’t about us-- Israelis .This play is about you (and I dare say it, even though I do not know you yet). It is about you in an unusual situation, after which you are forced to take actions that confront you with the question: what do we think that we know about ourselves and what do we find out about ourselves once we are thrown out of our ordinary habits into a situation of chaos and fear --or even less extreme than that-- the loss of our sense of comfort? This play is about you in a situation where your moral standards conflict with your ambition to live your life the way you wanted to. What will you do? Will you give up  your morality, of which you were so certain? The private and public way of life to which you have aspired? Will you create, in your minds, an alternate moral system, one which will rid you of the need to face these questions?.

From Israeli professor Shimon Levy’s essay which accompanied the 2003 premiere of The Accident at Beit Lessin Theatre in Tel Aviv.

The actual message of The Accident is hidden within the film-within-the-play which one of its characters is directing. Adam explains, “The film I was trying to make was about our dreams that have vanished; our actions that have all turned anomalous; our language that has turned to filth, and us… what we have become: people without faces, faint shadows, sad and faithless…”

The Accident is indeed a play about Israelis who lack the courage for inward change. Four characters live a life replete with lies. Even the moral freshness of their daughter Shiri cannot revive these desiccated dead-of-the deserts. Their life-long collection of bluffs, betrayals and mutual infidelities shatter one by one following the accident, because, as the Hebrew saying goes, “lies float”. The naïveté ascribed to the first pioneering period of the settlement in the country will never return. The Accident reveals a nostalgic vein, a kind of recognition concerning the present, and a veiled, unfriendly future – all of which invite the fabrication of fond memories for a past that may not have ever existed to begin with.

Shiri apparently represents a naïve hope for a better, slightly braver new world, because she will eventually find a way so as to modestly correct a great evil. But Mitelpunkt is poking fun at his (Israeli, at least) audiences with this naïve solution. The Accident is not merely about four Israelis believing they are OK. It also exposes a section of the moderate well-to-do Israeli left-wing liberal theater-goers, who, in  (oblivious?) self-deception, get along wonderfully with one another, lacking, as the playwright suggests, any basic decency and unknowingly suffering from the Occupation’s mental and moral poisoning. Through this intentionally TV-like melodrama Mittelpunkt scratches at wounds without specifying easy targets. Israeli commercial theater nowadays is well attended by news-exhausted audiences from the very center of the political consensus, frail as it is. They are not to be overly disturbed by explicit messages; but you can still gently indicate that whoever lives falsely will pay the price.

The Accident shoots rubber bullets that are not supposed to kill, only warn us. It buries the explosions, killings, and destruction of homes deep beneath the symbolic death of an “unimportant” Chinese worker. Betrayal, however, is clearly nearby; attrition, as Nira says, resulting from the “small floods.” The play deals with the dust that settles after a large explosion; with the cancer that results from moral fall-out.                  

Relevant Facts:

Migrant workers in Israel currently number about 180,000 (some 7% of the local labor force), approximately 50% of whom lack legal status. Migrants are one of the weakest groups in Israel; as non-citizens, non-Hebrew speakers, and non-Jews, they are an invisible ‘other.’ Furthermore, Israel has no immigration policy for non-Jews. Even if one has resided in Israel for many years, naturalization is virtually impossible.
From The Hotline for Migrant Workers (HMW), a non-partisan, not for profit organization, dedicated to promoting the rights of undocumented migrant workers and refugees and eliminating trafficking in persons in Israel.

from THE JERUSALEM POST, March 17, 2007, by Boris N. Gorshkov

Two hundred drivers-to-be are taking part in a six-month pilot course designed to improve the way Israelis are trained before being turned loose on the nation's roads.  The pilot program, run by Milan - The Center for Driving Education, in conjunction with researchers from Tel Aviv University, provides a comprehensive immersion in driving theory, encompassing practical and theoretical elements of the driving experience, Dani Shtruzman, an adviser to the Transportation Ministry on the project, told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.
…Asked why, after 28 lessons, Israeli drivers still have a reputation of being among the most reckless in the world, Daron Kashuv, chairman of the ministry committee evaluating Milan said: "The truth of the matter is that road manners come from habits at school and home. If you are rude in school, you are rude on the roads. Therefore, we cannot change the current situation without addressing the root problem associated with behavior among Israelis. We will have to teach Israelis to respect each other and not to 'fight' on the road."
The stressful nature of Israeli life is the main cause of bad driving, Avi Gadon, an instructor from the Ramzor driving school, told the Post last week. “The security situation makes people rush and take risks when they drive. Also, there is a lot of testosterone on the road, especially nowadays...”