Theater Review: Exquisite ‘Compulsion’ at Berkeley Rep

"Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."

Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin stars in the world-premiere production of Compulsion at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin stars in the world-premiere production of Compulsion at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
In Review

Compulsion

5 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars - 'Outstanding - Starkie!'
Directed by Oskar Eustis
Starring Mandy Patinkin, Hannah Cabell, Matte Osian
Written by Rinne Groff
Puppeteers: Emily DeCola, Daniel Fay, Eric Wright
Through October 31, 2010, Thrust Stage
www.berkeleyrep.org
Review by
Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin stars in the world-premiere production of Compulsion at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin stars in the world-premiere production of Compulsion at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com.

The Berkeley Rep does it again. With the exquisite Compulsion, the West Coast’s most fearless theatre opens its season with an intelligent, thought-provoking play that deconstructs Jewish culture, history and faith. And once again–14 times in 14 years–a Rep production will make its way to New York, following in the footsteps of smash hit American Idiot.

Tony and Emmy Award-winner Mandy Patinkin stars as Sid Silver (a character inspired by the life of Meyer Levin), a man so utterly driven to bring Anne Frank’s story to the stage for all the world to see, that he alternatively inspires and frightens. Those expecting a revenge-seeking, moustached The Princess Bride (1987) version of Patinkin (“My name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”), may be surprised to witness this richly layered, nuanced performance of a complex man. Then again, Patinkin has been honing his craft on Broadway stages (Tony Award for Evita) and television (Emmy for Chicago Hope) for years.

You’ve got to be careful what you say in the theater, it can lead to litigation.

(l to r) Mandy Patinkin, Hannah Cabell and Matte Osian star in the world-premiere production of Compulsion, a compelling new play at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
(l to r) Mandy Patinkin, Hannah Cabell and Matte Osian star in the world-premiere production of Compulsion, a compelling new play at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

At first I thought Patinkin’s performance too calculated. The emotion and actions didn’t feel as authentic as they might have. Soon enough, however, I realized that we were in the hands of a pro. In Sid Silver, we’re watching a man who will knock down any obstacle, and persist, despite the incalculable odds, perceived or otherwise. This is Pantinkin’s show. He’s on stage for the whole 2 hours; riveting, engrossing stuff.

His French wife, played with whimsy and resolve in an equally outstanding performance by Hanna Cabell (whose chameleon transformations in a dual role are mind-bending), despises that he would spend more time with Anne Frank than with a living, breathing woman. Standing at the door, soaked from the torrential rain, she desperately seeks meaning in his quest to usurp the Hackett version of the play with his own. Later, she’s visited by Anne Frank herself in a dream sequence that mesmerizes, “You’ll never know what those last days felt like.”

Matte Osian does yeoman’s work in four different roles, many involving similar green suits and glasses that cause Sid Silver to do several double takes at Doubleday.

You don’t have to worry about the director being Jewish, they all are.

Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin performs with a marionette of Anne Frank in the world-premiere production of Compulsion at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin performs with a marionette of Anne Frank in the world-premiere production of Compulsion at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

Then there are the marionettes!

Although they don’t appear on stage, the three puppeteers (Emily DeCola, Daniel Fay, Eric Wright) are very much stars of this show. Beautifully intricate creations, with what must be about two stories of fine lines running from rafters to the stage, the marionettes convey elegance and haunting poignancy. The Anne Frank play within-a-play comes to life when these puppets act out scenes, voiced by the actors standing to the sides, as Sid Silver watches out front, glowing as he receives accolades. It is, indeed, marvelous work.

Throughout, we’re challenged with matters of the grey area. Black and white this is not. Commercialism versus truth and conviction factor into the bargain.

Also top notch is Oskar Eustis’ direction. Thanks to brief flashes of light or thunder, scenes seamlessly morph into each other. Artistic projection is used with care to propel time as Sid Silver types across the decades… 1952, 1966 in Israel, then finally 1981 in New York City.

The Bay Area has the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders. But, these days, it’s nice to know we can count on Berkeley Rep for a winning tradition. What’s in the water? With Compulsion the dynasty continues.

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

Compulsion
Written by Rinne Groff
Directed by Oskar Eustis
Berekeley Repertory Theatre
5 out of 5 stars
Starring Mandy Patinkin, Hannah Cabell, Matte Osian
Puppeteers: Emily DeCola, Daniel Fay, Eric Wright
2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission
Through October 31, 2010, Thrust Stage
www.berkeleyrep.org

Noteworthy
  • Where’s the fourth actor? Loni and I both wondered where the tall blonde was that played Miss Mermin. Why did only three actors come out for curtain call? Then, after reviewing the Cast sheet, I realized that it was the same actor, Hannah Cabell, in a dual role. Oh! Wow!
  • Crowd-spotting: Robin Pressman, Meyer Levin’s niece.
  • Compulsion is compelling, no? Be sure to read the interview with playwright Rinne Groff in The Berkeley Rep Magazine (page 22).
  • The production will transfer to The Public in February 2011, becoming the 14th show in the last 14 years to move from Berkeley Rep to New York City.
  • NEXT at Berkeley Rep: The Great Game: Afghanistan (West Coast Premiere) Oct 7 – Nov 7, 2010.
  • It’s been an exciting week for Bay Area Theater. Part 1 of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Brother/Sister Trilogy, In the Red and Brown Water, opened at Marin Theatre Company to raves (review), now Compulsion. This weekend: La Cages aux Folles (Broadway by the Bay), Rabbit Hole (Coastal Rep), Angels in America Part 1 (The Pear Ave. Theater). And next week: more, more and more. Ah, the show. Got to love it.
  • Be sure to follow SSC on Facebook and Twitter for the latest in Bay Area Theater; now covering over 40 venues from San Francisco, and Berkeley to Palo Alto and San Jose, and just about everywhere in between.
  • I might know a think or two about a guy like Sid Silver. I’ve been known to chase the midnight hour and a ghost or two here on SSC — independent publishing, one post at a time — Clint
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