"Compulsion" (Next Theatre): Diary of a Mad Man

"Compulsion" (Next Theatre):  Diary of a Mad Man

Next Theatre Company presents the Chicago premiere of COMPULSION.

Playwright Rinne Groff blurs fiction and non-fiction in his play about a novelist’s obsession with a diary. Groff imagines the real life struggle of Meyer Levin in adapting the “Diary of Anne Frank” into a stage play. Levin is portrayed as Syd Silver and played with bullying perfection by Mick Weber. From the start of the show, Weber exudes the ultimate fanaticism. He is overwrought to have the historic chronicle published and has arrived at Doubleday to plead his case. Here’s where the audience gets the first peek at Syd’s right to rights of the story. The junior publisher, played with perky efficiency by Jenny Avery, has already contracted the book with Otto Frank, Anne’s surviving father. Weber has the first of mega melt downs.

Under the deft direction of Devon de Mayo, Weber’s moments of lucid amicability balance with his growing mania. We experience Weber’s heartfelt intent coupled with his bull-in-a-china-shop style. A passionate Weber argues every point with the obtuseness of the resolute. Avery and John Byrnes bring the normalcy in their multiple parts. Their various reactions to Weber’s crazy fill in the gap of the spiraling compulsion. The story captivated for its portrayal of the stalker-like fascination of Anne Frank. It also highlighted the interesting process of page to stage.

On stage, Set Designer Grant Sabin has lined up matching doors. ‘Every bridge burned’ by Weber is symbolically represented by a door not only closing but being unhinged. It’s a powerful metaphor. I really enjoyed COMPLUSION. The only speed bump for me was the scenes with marionettes. Puppets portray Anne and Otto/Peter’s in ghosts-of-the-past-interactions. Anne should have a visual presence in a play about a play about her diary. It’s just that the intermittent puppetry were sluggish scenes in the otherwise well-paced Syd Silver frenzy.

Still, COMPULSION is riveting. The story plunges us into the historical controversy of a fourteen year old’s life musings. And it highlights so profoundly how a righteous quest can take an extreme plummet into the dark side.

Running Time: Two hours includes an intermission
At Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston
Written by Rinne Groff
Inspired by the true story of Meyer Levin’s obsession with “Anne Frank’s Diary”
Directed by Devon de Mayo
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 2pm
Thru November 17th
Buy Tickets at nexttheatre.org

Production photo by Michael Brosilow

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