Broadway Features and Reviews
Compulsion Starring Mandy Patinkin Opens Berkeley Rep
By Linda Hodges, Broadway Magazine
There is nothing like live theater -- and nobody does it better, and more creatively, than Berkeley Rep. The ever exciting beacon of drama by the bay opened their 42nd season with the daringly bold and uncompromising choice of playwright Rinne Groff's "Compulsion." A stark portrayal of a man who is himself daringly bold and uncompromising; determined to make sure that the Jewish voice of Anne Frank and her wartime diary is not lost in the transition from page to stage, "Compulsion" is nothing short of brilliant.
Making use of the creative capacity of historical fiction, Groff tells the true-life story of Meyer Levin who is fictionalized as "Sid Silver" and played masterfully by Mandy Patinkin. Levin was a Jewish writer who fought for 30 years to bring his own play of "The Diary of Anne Frank" to the Broadway stage after first embarking on a mission to have the Diary published in America.
Reinventing some characters and combining others in the service of telling Levin's tale, Groff succeeds in taking us into the inner turmoil of one man's compulsion to remain true to Anne Frank's Jewish voice with the hope of raising up the Jewish plight for all the world to understand.
"I would lay down my life to serve this book and all that it represents to the Jewish people," Silver proclaims.
We learn that he served as a military journalist and was among the first to see the aftermath of the Nazi's concentration camps. Realizing, in those early years after the war, that his secondhand telling could never capture the magnitude of the Holocaust, his fervent hope was that "someday a teller would arise a teller from amongst themselves" that could give a first-hand account of the wartime atrocities. When his young French wife (the wonderful Hannah Cabell) gives him the French edition of Anne's Diary that "writer from within" is found and his destiny is set.
Tony and Emmy-award-winning Mandy Patinkin imbues Silver with a tenacity that he allows to slowly devolve into treacherous obsession as he is met on all sides with negative responses to his version of the play.
With deft strokes of sheer determination Patinkin's Silver continues to make his case. His voice crescendos, hurling rage and anger at all who dare to compromise his dream then quickly drops into hushed hopefulness whenever things seem like they might go his way.
He wheedles then needles Doubleday publishing assistant Miss Mermin (also played by Cabell) as well as a variety of possible partners (all played brilliantly by Matte Osian) who ask him to step back from his inflexible stance and make the play more universal, but he refuses.
In what will take decades he eventually resorts to suing publishers, producers and rival playwrights accusing them of everything from theft to conspiracy to anti-Semitism. Refusing to relinquish even a small part of his vision he finally even accuses Anne's father of betraying his own daughter's voice. Silver's weary and frustrated wife asks, "Can you soften it? Can you tone it down?" "No - this is my voice," he says, his face a picture of anguished determination.
But is it Anne's voice?
The screenwriting team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett are finally chosen over him and it is their version of the Diary that goes on to Broadway eventually winning the Pulitzer Prize. Undaunted, Silver refuses to succumb and he spends the rest of his life compulsively chasing Anne and her Diary.
We hear from Anne herself in the guise of a marionette. Part of Meyer Levin's back story was that he was a founder of the Marionette Studio in Chicago, giving Groff the marvelous idea of having Anne Frank and other characters appear as marionettes. Matt Acheson and his team of puppeteers (Emily DeCola, Daniel Patrick Fay and Eric Wright) added immeasurably to the performance bringing Anne's spirit to life in a respectful, almost dreamlike way.
Eugene Lee's scenic design is sparse and economic leaving room for the wonderful video and projection elements of designer Jeff Sugg. As Silver types out his version of the play we see the letters appearing across the backdrop. Dates, parts of Anne's diary and crashing ocean waves are also projected seamlessly into the storyline. A projection of Anne's original diary and a moving and mournful look at the outside of the apartment where she and her family hid from the Nazi's anchor the show, grounding the historical aspects even as we move into the fictional account of Levin's compulsion.
Lighting (Michael Chybowski) and Sound (Darron L. West) design were artistically done, creating nuance, mood and shading that supported and enhanced the overall intent of the show.
Director Oskar Eustis holds nothing back in creating an honest, at times, painfully searing depiction of a man deeply scarred by the war and the fate of six million Jews in the Holocaust. Under Eustis' guidance what emerges is a theatrical event that tugs at the intellect and compels the audience to listen again to the voice of young girl whose story became a personal struggle in the heart of one man to retain her particularity in the face of what he perceived as a "de-Judaized" universalism.
Written by Rinne Groff
Directed by Oskar Eustis
Co-production with ale Repertory Theatre and the Public Theater
Main Season | Thrust Stage
September 13 october 31, 2010
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes,
Including one 15 minute intermission
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