Compulsion: The Cliffs-Notes


Anne Frank enthusiast Sid Silver guides “The Diary of a Young Girl” to publication and great success; he turns into an obsessive, hissing tiger of a man when his play adaptation is endlessly ignored. As Sid Silver (based on a real-life figure Meyer Levin), Mandy Patinkin gets to use every brooding and explosive bone in his body.


Sid Silver is to “Compulsion” as the Winkelvoss twins were to “The Social Network.” Each claimed to be the fount of inspiration; each lost years mired in legal fracas. Courtroom drama! Money! Ambition! How’s this for an ad campaign: “ ‘Compulsion’: ‘The Social Network’ of Off-Broadway.”


Marionettes hang from the grid at preshow. “How exciting!” you think. Then the gallows irony hits you: the limp puppets look like dead bodies. This unsettling sense of tainted goodness pervades the show. (This is a good thing.)


Anne Frank is brilliantly played by a 3-foot puppet. She’s always this semi-real, creepy girl/woman, forever caught between childhood and adulthood, life and death, autonomy and passivity. Her voice, the very essence of her legend, is co-opted by her fellow castmates and they speak softly into microphones around the stage. Sid Silver even gets a shot… and the effect is just as eerie and gripping as you’d imagine.


Philip Roth explores similar terrain in “The Ghost Writer,” a maddening book where Ann Frank lust runs the story. Condescending to youth whenever possible, Roth present a 20-something author who falls in love with a woman claiming to be a Holocaust-surviving Anne Frank. Her literary pedigree, beauty, and entire story make her totally irresistible. Roth’s hero could certainly identify with Sid Silver in a few, particular scenes of “Compulsion,” chiefly one where Anne winds up in bed between Silver and his wife.


The Public continues to look like a war zone. The renovation promises to be grand; let’s hope the sheetrock, plastic siding, and ghetto bathrooms are worth it. (Artist renderings certainly seem to hint that good things are on the way.) On the upside, every show feels kind of like environmental theater.


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