Opening Next Theatre’s 33rd season is Rinne Groff’s Compulsion directed by Devon de Mayo, playing at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston until November 17th. It is based on a true story of Chicagoan Meyer Levin who was, arguably, one of the most significant Jewish-American writers of his time. Premiering at Yale Rep and moving to Berkeley Rep in 2010 and New York in 2011, it is a powerful beginning to what promises to be a year of in depth exploration of “secrets, lies and revelations”.
Rinne Groff like her protagonist Sid Silver also has a strong connection to The Diary of Anne Frank. Her mother is Dutch and Jewish. She owns a rare copy of Meyer Levin’s stage adaptation of the book, which is the central theme of the play. That is, Levin’s fight to have his play published and produced in the U. S.
I wondered about the title Compulsion. Why not “Obsession”? Initially Meyer Levin who is Sid Silver (Mick Webber) in the play obtains Anne Frank’s Diary. Actually, it was his French wife who having read it in French tells him how good it is. Perhaps it is because he feels that he is the book’s guardian that he is compelled to spread her words, her message, to show the world what it was like to be in a camp. Eventually, he recognizes that he is obsessed with this wish.
In fact, Meyer Levin wrote a book in 1957 about Leopold and Loeb called “Compulsion” and later wrote another book in 1974 called “Obsession” describing his frustration and paranoia associated with suppression of the play he wrote based on Anne Frank’s Diary. In Rinne Groff’s Compulsion Sid Silver, the fictionalized Meyer Levin, sinks gradually into the abyss as he risks his health, his career and his marriage trying to have his play published and produced. He believes that he is being deceived by those who have the power to bring the play he has written about Anne Frank to the stage.
The acting was outstanding. Mick Webber as Sid Silver was passionate and very convincing as a conflicted and troubled individual. Jenny Avery was convincing as two different women, and John Byrnes was remarkable in the multiple roles he took on. It was hard to believe all those accents and personalities emanated from the same actor. The puppets and shadow puppets were used effectively to enhance the story telling. The sets, lighting, and sound were very effective. Looking at The Diary of Anne Frank from today’s perspective, it is strange to view the period of time when the diary was found initially and then think about the impact it has had as it took it’s place in literature and philosophy. So much so that the iconic words from the diary are familiar and inspiring. And then we see what it did to one man and his family.
It was a different world then. Open Anti-Semitism was not unusual. Being “too Jewish” was a problem. To what extent was Sid Silver taken advantage of and to what extent was he his own worst enemy? His French wife fictionalize as Mrs. Silver (Jenny Avery) was actually Tereska Torres whose book “Women’s Barracks” became a best seller. She was depicted as a woman who tried desperately to help her husband break free from his obsession.
I would strongly recommend this play but be warned that though there is some humor, it is not light and fluffy. It does provide the audience the opportunity to look into the question of what motivates this man and/or man in general. Was he selfless or selfish? There is a great deal to ponder and discuss.
Additional cast includes: Artistic Director Jenny Avery and John Byrnes. The production team is made up of Grant Sabin (set design), Heather Gilbert (lighting design), Mieka Vanderploeg (costume design), Kevin O’Donnell (sound design/composition) and Eileen Rozycki (prop design).
Every 2 p.m. Sunday matinee during the season is followed by a discussion with the artistic staff and artists involved in the production, as well as special guests familiar with the topic to be discussed.
Next Theatre serves more than 10,000 patrons annually, including students, elderly and everyone in between. The Next audience includes local Evanstonians as well as Chicago and North Shore residents, and they have come to expect artistic excellence in the pursuit of culturally progressive work.
Don’t be discouraged by the construction. Follow the signs and you will be fine.
The Next Theatre is located inside the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, adjoining the Noyes street stop on the Evanston "el." Parking is available in the lot adjacent to the theatre and at the Evanston Civic Center.
Next Theatre Box Office hours are from 12 – 6 p.m. weekdays and two hours prior to curtain. All tickets are held at will-call until pick-up on the day of performance, unless the tickets have been purchased in person.
Next Theatre Company presents Rinne Groff’s Compulsion, October 10 – November 17, directed by Devon de Mayo, at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street. Previews are Thursday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. Opening Night is Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. The performance schedule is Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There are Saturday 4 p.m. performances October 27 and November 3, 10 and 17. Preview tickets are $25. Tickets are $30 - $40 with subscriber and student discounts are available. Tickets may be purchased by calling 847-475-1875 x2 or at Next Theatre Website
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The Next Theatre is funded in part by The Evanston Community Foundation, The Alphawood Foundation, The ArtsWork Fund, The Chicago Community Trust, The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, The Evanston Arts Council, The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Prince Charitable Trust and the Illinois Arts Council.
All photos by Michael Brosilow