‘Compulsion’ reveals a man on a mission

Audiences will recognize the photo of the young girl with the large eyes and dark hair. For those who lived through World War II and the 50 years that followed, Anne Frank is an unforgettable icon. 

Perhaps not so familiar is Sid Silver, the central character of Rinne Groff’s “Compulsion.” In this riveting new play, which made its world premiere Thursday as the first production of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s 2010-11 season, Silver is the man who brought Anne Frank’s immortal “The Diary of a Young Girl” into the light.

Based on Meyer Levin — the real-life journalist, author, playwright and puppeteer — Silver is, as the title suggests, a man obsessed, not just with getting Anne’s diary published, but with preserving her as a symbol for Jewish identity.

It’s an epic struggle, and Groff’s script follows it to the end as Silver fights the publishing world, the legal system, Anne’s father, Otto, and the theater producers who think his stage adaptation of the diary is a little “too Jewish.”

If he’s ultimately successful, he wreaks considerable havoc while pursuing his singular quest.

Starring Broadway actor Mandy Patinkin, the play emerges as a fascinating slice of 20th-century history, infused with political insight, poetic yearning, literary name-dropping and plenty of Jewish humor. 

Director Oskar Eustis — whose Public Theatre co-commissioned the work with Berkeley Rep and Yale Repertory Theatre — brings the discrete threads together in a vigorous production with sets by Eugene Lee, lighting by Michael Chybowski, costumes by Susan Hilferty and sound by Darron L. West. 

Patinkin gives a bravura performance, tempering Silver’s high ideals with relentless drive, an explosive temper and a cruel vindictive streak. 

Despite the character’s flaws, he makes Silver sympathetic. Patinkin, who got a hand just for walking onstage at the start of opening night, earned a genuine ovation by the end. 

Hannah Cabell plays Silver’s beleaguered French wife and his New York publisher. Matte Osian fills out the cast as various lawyers, agents, directors and lackeys. 

Matt Acheson’s marionettes — especially the one who speaks for Anne — enter and exit from above the stage, adding a haunting dimension.
 
The 2½-hour production isn’t perfect. It could use some judicious edits, especially in the second half. Yet by evening’s end, “Compulsion” offers a potent reminder of the truths Levin dedicated his life to keeping alive.

IF YOU GO
Compulsion

Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 31
Tickets: $14.50 to $73
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

artsBerkeley Repertory TheatreCompulsionentertainment

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The San Francisco Police Department released body camera footage of the alleged assault on Dacari Spiers. (Via SFPD Body Cam)
SF police officer to stand trial for assault over baton beating

A San Francisco police officer who prosecutors say unnecessarily beat a man… Continue reading

Mayor London Breed announced The City’s return to the red tier for COVID-19 precautions at Pier 39 on Tuesday<ins>, March 2, 2021</ins>. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
San Francisco enters red COVID tier, indoor dining to resume

Museums and gyms can reopen with capacity limits

Under the new plan, Twin Peaks Boulevard would be reserved exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists until Christmas Tree Point.	(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board approves new plan for Twin Peaks Boulevard

Cuts vehicle-free space by half. Neighbors say crime, vandalism will still abound

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Study finds housing homeless in hotels during pandemic eases burden on hospitals

Amina Khan Los Angeles Times San Francisco researchers have found an effective… Continue reading

Cities including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are calling for large grocery and drug store chains to pay employees hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)
SF proposes $5 hazard pay law for grocery, drug store workers

San Francisco may soon join the growing number of cities requiring large… Continue reading

Most Read