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Review: 'An Accident' is deliberately powerful at Empire Stage

Correspondent

The best actors are superb chameleons who dive deeply into the world of each new play and bring a character to life from within.

Elizabeth Price is among those impressive, bold theater artists, in recent years tackling roles in plays by William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and a host of contemporary playwrights. But her newest role, Libby in the Primal Forces production of Lydia Stryk’s “An Accident,” juxtaposes life and art in a chilling, deeply affecting way.

Stryk’s play, which had its world premiere in 2010 at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, was written as a response to the playwright’s own terrible accident: She was hit by a truck driver while riding her bicycle.

He fled the scene, leaving her to navigate the complicated process of healing mentally and physically, including learning to walk again. “An Accident” imagines what might have happened if the driver had stuck around, felt remorse and taken responsibility for that life-altering moment.

Price has gone through a similar experience, surviving being hit by a car while on her bike, enduring surgeries and rehab, slowly walking again as she continued to act, direct and teach. For this wonderful and highly skilled actor, Libby’s recovery, her racing mind and uncooperative body, aren’t just concepts to be communicated.

Staged by Primal Forces founder Keith Garsson at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage, “An Accident” reunites Price with Nicholas Wilder, who starred opposite her in “Reborning” at Arts Garage in Delray Beach. Wilder, an actor with a long list of credits in regional theater, two touring productions, an off-Broadway “Major Barbara” plus film and TV roles, gives an impressively textured performance as Anton, a history teacher wracked with guilt after he nearly kills Libby in a grocery store parking lot.

The play is set in Libby’s hospital room, but the abstract set by Bombshell Productions — a sea of wrinkled fabric that takes on the various colors of Nate Sykes’ lighting of an otherwise black space — may leave you wondering whether Libby is trapped in a limbo between life and death.

Initially standing beside her bed as a physical embodiment of her spirit, dressed in white and panicking as she observes her inert body, Libby is confused. She doesn’t remember her name, the accident, her former life. Drugs have dulled the pain and her memory, but with the exception of one big toe, she cannot move. Will she walk again? Recover her past? No one knows.

Anton, a regular presence at her bedside, torments himself with the knowledge that, had he not given in to a craving for cherries and stopped at the store after school that day, none of this would have happened. He would have been at home, not at the grocery. He wouldn’t have backed his car out as she distractedly ran past. He wouldn’t have nearly crushed her.

“An Accident” is both a puzzle and a fencing match. Gradually, the pieces of Libby’s past and the details of the accident come into focus. Wilder’s Anton wants to help heal Libby, help her come out of her damaged state. He is largely mild-mannered, until her habit of weaponizing his words drives him to fury.

Price’s Libby is smart, sardonic, ready to exact psychological revenge. When she finds Anton at her bedside, she asks, “So you’re the jerk that ruined my life? You’re him?” And yet, as the days and nights and weeks go by, the two establish a bond that briefly veers into the erotic, as Anton’s clumsy attempt at healing Libby with his hands turns into soft kisses delivered at her command.

“An Accident” is a taut two-hander with brief scenes, its running time clocking in at about 75 minutes. Under Garsson’s direction, Price and Wilder navigate the play’s tricky emotional journey with grace, power and deeply conveyed truth.

“An Accident” is running through May 27 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday- Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $30. To order, call 866-811-4111 or go to PrimalForces.com.

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