By Rinne Groff
Directed by Devon De Mayo
At Next Theatre, Evanston
Riveting and relentless obsession is part dedication and part paranoia
Both playwright Rinne Groff and Meyer Levin each shared a strong connection to Anne Frank’s story. Groff took Levin’s passion for getting the Frank diary published in the USA and his determination to write the definitive stage adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank. The long battles inspired Groff to write Compulsion. Meyer Levin (1905-1981) was the model for Sid Silver (Mick Webber).
We see how Silver’s dedication to the spirit of Ann Frank as the spokes person for 6 million Jews drove him from determined to obsession to compulsion. His actions were emotional sprouting heated exchanges and adversarial negotiations with publisher and theatrical producers. Over the course of 30 years, Sliver battled to see his play produced but Otto Frank and the producers went with a more “stageworthy” version by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.
Compulsion uses a couple of unique storytelling techniques including having only three actors playing all the roles minus Mick Webber who only played Sid Silver. Jenny Avery and John Brynes each played a wide range of characters with Avery moving from the French-accented Mrs. Silver to a range of theatrical and secretarial types. Byrnes became a range of lawyers/publishers to a Israeli sabra complete with a nice Hebrew accent. Add the smart puppets (designed by Jesse Mooney-Bullock) that depicted Ann Frank and Peter from the Diary and others and Compulsion becomes a swiftly paced and emotionally wrenching drama.
Mick Webber is terrific as he navigates and funneled his passion and devotion to championing Ann Frank as the voice of the Holocaust victims as well as his ego as the a conveyor of all things “Jewish.” As editors and producers rejected his forceful, argumentative ways, Silver became paranoid resulting in him lashing out at anyone who dared obstruct him from his mission.
We see Silver almost destroy his family as he spent all his time and money fighting in court to get his play produced. He simply would not stop his quest even after a settlement where in he agreed to give up the rights to produce his version of the Ann Frank play.
Compulsion is an interesting study of a historical battle involving one of the most powerful stories to emerge from the horrors of WWII. It is also a character sketch of the effects on a person when his determination becomes a passion fueled by idealism and a strong will that grows into a compulsion that is fueled by paranoia. We see Solver’s rescission destroying himself and all around him. Compulsion is part cautionary tale and part historical drama. It proves that good intentions need to be kept in check unless they overwhelm. Mick Webber captures the moods and angst of Silver magnificently.
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Date Reviewed: October 15, 2013
For more info checkout the Compulsion page at theatreinchicago.com
At Next Theatre, in the Noyes Cultural Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston, IL, call 847-476-1875, www.nexttheatre.org, tickets $30 – $40, Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm,running time is 2 hours with intermission, through November 17, 2013