Theatre Review: “Compulsion” @ Berkeley Rep, 09/19/10

Compulsion’s talent, writing, production are all worthy of Broadway. Berkeley Rep has produced a show that makes you feel like you just walked out of a Broadway theatre. I felt the same way when I walked out of American Idiot — I knew that I had just seen a Broadway-caliber performance. It’s so wonderful to have that at your fingertips and never have to leave the Bay Area.

Compulsion is a world premiere play, written by Rinne Groff,  premiering at Berkeley Rep, The Public Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre. It was seen at the Yale Repertory Theatre earlier this year and is scheduled to play at The Public Theatre in New York City in February 2011. I wouldn’t be surprised if it transferred to Broadway in the 2011-2012 season after it’s successful run at the Public Theatre.

The story follows Sid Silver (Mandy Patinkin) who wants nothing more than to bring Anne Frank’s story to an American audience, and he believes he’s the right man to adapt the young girl’s diary for the stage. But his passion spirals into a lifelong obsession that almost destroys himself if the process. While fiction, the story focuses on the very essence of passion, addiction and compulsion. This unique look into Silver’s life brings us a very compelling drama filled with raw emotion from start to finish.

The unique use of marionettes is fascinating and plays an integral part of the show, as the leading lady, Anne Frank is a marionette. When asked why the writer made Anne Frank a marionette, she said, “I knew Anne Frank had to be in the play, but I also knew that any attempt at her literal representation had to be potential to feel cheesy… [she became] a marionette, because its facial ‘expressions’ never change, [and] is animated as much by an audience’s projections onto its being as by the movements of the puppeteers who control it. That felt like an apt metaphor…” I thought I wasn’t going to like the use of marionettes but their seamless integration into the production became extremely powerful and moving and in a way I didn’t think possible. It was stunning imagery — riveting at times.

Mandy Patinkin’s varying degree of emotion is quite exquisite throughout the production. He takes you on a journey through the very complex mind of of Sid Silver and gives insight to his passion and addiction. It’s obvious that the talented Patinkin is a seasoned veteran. His co-stars, Hannah Cabell and Matte Osian both do a formidable job portraying the several different characters that are given to them. Cabell’s depiction of Mrs. Silver was my favorite out of them. The ending of Act I was particularly visionary.

Silver’s “life work” was telling people why Anne Frank’s story is so important. It seemed that every one of his decisions reflected his passion and at times it became unbearable to himself, coworkers and even his wife. My favorite part about this play, is the fact, that Silver’s passion about Anne Frank is the ultimate message that I think the playwright, Groff, is trying portray: Anne Frank’s story should not be forgotten. Though the play centers around this compulsion and Silver’s life journey, Anne Frank is still the central character. Her message of love, hope and faith is what you walk away with. This is her message: “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

It’s a rare chance that a show like this comes your way. Take advantage of this opportunity and get your tickets before it’s sold-out.

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