Compulsion, at Berkeley Repertory Theater


Photo to left is a Self-Portrait as a Puppet by artist Pedro Moreno. I usually show my own works at this blog, but I saw Compulsion with Pedro, I am friend to him and his art, which I adore, and after all, his drawing is of a Marionette.

Photo at top is of my  Chrysalis sculptures, which I chose for the strings on which they hang, and for their symbolic value, given that Anne Frank was an adolescent while she wrote her diaries while in hiding, and who died at age 16. The Chrysalis is the adolescent stage of the insect, for me symbolic of the stage of  adolescence, symbolic of the way my people were seen by the Nazis, as insects to be exterminated.

The final photograph below the rest was taken by Egmont Van Dyche on August 11, of the mess I cultivate at my studio.  I chose it for puppet reference, for death symbolism, for depiction of young life cut off before growth and full potential of life could flower. I chose it for Anne Frank,  the theme of the Play, Compulsion.

 I am compelled to write about a theater piece written by Rinne Groff, Compulsion, about the author of the first non-fiction novel, Compulsion, written by Meyer Levin, which was about the true life crime of Leopold and Loeb. Levin, who sued the father of Anne Frank, Otto Frank, after Levin was entrusted by Mr. Frank  (without written contract---important to the story) to do two things: to disseminate the prolific diaries of Otto Frank's daughter, Anne, and to write and produce a play based on her diaries.

     This post is about the play, Compulsion, currently at the Berkeley Repertory Theater.  To unravel the tangled threads of the Marionette that is the story that became so burdensome as to nearly ruin the lives of Meyer Levin, his wife Tereska Torres, Otto Frank, who's life already was in ruin by the Nazis, Judith Jones, publisher at Doubleday, Barbara Zimmerman, editor of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, who was herself the age Anne Frank would have been, had she lived---is too much for me here---I suggest you see the play. If I could, I would compel everyone to see the play.
     It all seems complex, I'm sure, so I suggest you find your way to Berkeley to see the tour de force production starring Mandy Patinkin no less,  along with several lovingly hand-crafted works of art that are the Marionette puppets, and their three young puppeteers, Emily DeCola, Daniel Fay, Eric Wright. Puppets are courtesy of the puppeteers, of Puppet Kitchen, and Matt Atcheson, Puppet Designer and Supervisor. As Emily DeCola  explains in the Puppet Kitchen video at the Berkeley Rep website,, "Puppeteers are often Puppet Designers, are often Puppet Builders, there is overlap all the time." Also, in the playbill credits, Puppet Consultant, Basil Twist.

      This post is about two things:
      It is about what I experienced the play to be about,  the colliding worlds that are the universe within each human being, in conflict with other universes within other humans in normal times, that which the Talmud tells us is saved when a human life is saved, that which is lost when murder is done; it is about the horrific consequences of totalitarian war and regime on innocent defenseless humans; it is about the post traumatic consequences of that murder and persecution for the world, forever after.

      It is also about my seat at the theater last night. I was seated in the third row, on the far left. I saw the play in profile. From this privileged vantage point I was able to look up and down the silvery strands that are the work lines of the Marionettes in between the wooden holders held by the three puppeteers, and I got to see the puppeteers themselves, hidden from most of the audience. While the great actor that is Mandy Patinkin in what I heard him in interview on NPR say was the role of his life that has nearly undone him, over and over, in rehearsal and performance acted and I watched; as I sat in awe of him, and his fellow actors, held captive by the diologue and drama, which moved me to tears again and again, I also got to watch the puppeteers themselves. As an artist I know what creative concentration is. I was allowed to look up 25 feet or so, to see the look of art on their faces, watch their graceful movements exactly mirroring the movements of the puppets far below.
     The affect on me was two-fold. It was the feeling of being initiated into the esoteric inner world of something sacred, which made the play, already profound in ways that for me defy description, even greater in it's import. Then there was the juggernaut of the subject matter having to do with the consequences of Nazism which made puppets of the victims, puppets of the nazis themselves, puppets of the people of those dark times, and the people forever after, who are reminded in so many ways by too much in our world now, that we are all puppets.

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