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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review

From amongst themselves a teller must arise. That's my only mission now: to help the teller.— Mr. Silver
Mandy Patinkin
Mandy Patinkin (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Strong performances from actors playing multiple roles, interaction with puppets and Mandy Patinkin, making his Yale debut as a writer obsessed with telling Anne Frank's story, highlight Rinn e Groff's Compulsion in its world premier at Yale Repertory Theatre. Patinkin plays Mr. Silver (based on the real-life Meyer Levin) who spends his life fighting for the right to author the most authentic stage adaptation of Anne's diary — a task he feels no one else can accomplish, including Frances Goodman and Albert Hackett who won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for drama for The Diary of Anne Frank.

Miss Mermin (Hanna Cabell) is the publishing executive handling the manipulative and sometimes underhanded negotiations between Anne's father Otto and Silver, various producers and other writers. Stephen Barker Turner's transition to various male roles are often mocked by comments from Silver on the order of "Don't I know you?"

Silver ends up with the short end of the stick each time rights are assigned, but he hangs on to his dream of writing a stage version to produce in Israel, where he and his wife (a second role for Cabel nade possible by Lisa Loen's quick change facilitating costumes) eventually relocate. The words of Anne's diary haunt him, as does Anne, represented by an almost life-sized marionette who visits with him often as he sits at a desk penning her words.

Other marionettes are used to depict characters playing theater scenes and to lend nice special effects to a moment when Mrs. Silver contemplates suicide. The marionettes, with the exception of Anne, who walks freely about the stage, perform on puppet stages incorporated into Eugene Lee's simple gabled frame set.

There is way too much, and often rushed, dialogue about production rights and copyright law, amidst the real story: the growing tension between Silver and his wife who wants him to give up his obsession and the way Anne's voice sounds different to each of them. To Silver (and voiced by Cabell), she is a wise "teller" of the Holocaust and its meaning for the Jewish people; to his wife she just sounds like a small child seeking comfort. , As our sympathies toward his desire to do right by Anne can only extend so far, and Silver's compulsion, which appears to border on madness, soon becomes wearying,.

Groff's idea for the retelling of Frank's story is intriguing, especially since Levin (and thus Silver) once owned a marionette theater in Chicago. However, the marionettes, designed by Matt Acheson, give the play an unsettling, other-worldly feeling. Anne's appearing in bed with the couple, metaphorically coming between them, for example, extends dreamlike to creepy, especially when Patinkin supplies her voice. There are also times when the marionettes make you want to giggle inappropriately (stifled laugher in the audience could be heard regularly).

The play is directed by Oscar Eustis, artistic director of New York's Public Theatre, which co-produces the show with Yale Rep along with Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California. Don't be surprised if you see productions of Compulsion announced for their upcoming 2010-2011 seasons.

Compulsion By Rinne Groff
Directed by Oscar Eustis
Cast: Hannah Cabell (Miss Mermin, Mrs. Silver), Mandy Patinkin (Mr. Silver), Stephen Barker Turner (Mr. Thomas, Mr. Harris, Mr. Ferris, Mr. Matzliach, Mr. Williams), Emily DeCola, Liam Hurley, Eric Wright (puppeteers)
Scenic Design: Eugene Lee
Costume Design: Lisa Loen
Lighting Design: Marie Yokayama
Sound Designer: Darron L.West
Puppet Designer: Matt Acheson
Puppet Consultant: Basil Twist Vocal and Dialect Coach: Thom Jones
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with a 15 minute intermission
Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, at York Street, New Haven
Performances: Tuesdays at 8 pm, Wednesdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. No performances Feb. 6, 27 or Feb. 8-15.
Tickets are $35-$82 and are available online at, by phone at (203) 432-1234, and in person at the Yale Rep Box Office (1120 Chapel Street, at York Street).  Student, senior, and group rates are also available.
Jan. 29-Feb. 28Oct. 23-Nov. 14, 2009
Review by Lauren Yarger based on performance of Feb. 4. 2010
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