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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
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.