Review: The Compass (Steppenwolf For Young Adults)

| March 10, 2016

Ariana Burks as Marjan in The Compass, Steppenwolf Theatre Young Adults          

The Compass

Devised/Directed by Michael Rohd
Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
thru Mar 12  |  tix: $20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Direct yourself towards ‘The Compass’


Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, Jasmin Cardenas and Ariana Burks in The Compass

Steppenwolf for Young Adults presents
The Compass

Review by The Compass

Set in the near future, The Compass imagines a technology that can predict how humans will behave based on their online activities. If your phone application knows what you would do before you do, posits Michael Rohd‘s inventive production, you can simply follow its advice immediately rather than anguish over every little decision in your life. You ask this application, "Compass, would I skip school today?" or "Compass, would I ask that person on a date?" and it answers accurately, knowing you as well as you know yourself.

Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel and Tim Hopper in The Compass, Steppenwolf Young AdultsThis simple and chillingly plausible idea becomes far more intricate when a 16-year-old student named Marjan (Ariana Burks) faces up to two years of imprisonment as a result of an action she takes after consulting her Compass application. Concerned for her school’s safety due to an incendiary article she spreads via social media, Marjan calls in a bomb threat to make sure that the school closes for the day.

The play is framed as a trial: is Marjan guilty for calling in the bomb threat or innocent because Compass influenced her to do so? The audience gets split into ten groups, each of which has the representation of one juror. As more details of the case and points for the prosecution/defense unfold, these juror facilitators periodically freeze the trial action to generate discussion and obtain feedback from their group. After these five-minute breaks, a handful of these representatives report their thoughts and opinions based on their group’s discussion to the entire theater.

The show culminates in each facilitator taking a vote of guilty or not guilty from each member of their group with the result shaping the end of the show. You may already feel as though you know how you would vote on the issue now, but both the prosecutor (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) and the defense attorney (Sean Parris) make such compelling arguments that the opening night vote proved very tight indeed and many of the audience/jurors around me changed their minds as the case progressed.

Ariana Burks as Marjan in The Compass, Steppenwolf Theatre Ariana Burks and Johnathan Nieves in The Compass, SteppenwolfAbby Pajakowski as Facilitator in The Compass, Steppenwolf Theatre Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Prosecutor in The Compass, Steppenwolf TheatreAriana Burks in The Compass, Steppenwolf for Young Adults Theatre Sean Parris and Cheryl Lynn Bruce in The Compass, Steppenwolf Theatre

A very strong and diverse cast pace things well, with particular praise going to the ten facilitators. These men and women are skilled at engaging a group of people who may be shy about expressing their opinions, then processing that discussion and improvising it into succinct lines of dialogue from the juror character they are portraying. Great lighting and video work enhance this effect; the opening video ad for Compass appears very professional and impressive as well.

Audience members participate in Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ production of The CompassThe narrative makes a few logical leaps – most notably the notion that dozens of inner city students would spend hundreds of dollars each on handguns simply to make a point – but primarily fascinates with its hypothetical morality. What actions are a person ultimately responsible for? Does a person’s age affect that level of responsibility? Can technology affect decision-making as drugs and alcohol do? And if an algorithm can accurately predict your future actions based on your past actions, is there even such a thing as free will?

The Compass is targeted towards young adults, and certainly the emphasis on high school, mobile technology, and social media will resonate best with that demographic. But make no mistake, this production delves into some extremely existential philosophies in a uniquely interactive and engaging way. Audience members of any age will enjoy this challenging and thought-provoking material. If you’re still unsure on whether to attend, simply ask: "Compass, would I attend The Compass?"

Rating: ★★★½

The Compass continues through March 12th at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map).  Tickets are $20 ($15 with student ID), and are available by phone (312-335-1650) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 95 minutes, no intermission)

The Compass by Michael Rohd, Steppenwolf for Young Adults

Photos by Michael Courier 




Tim Hopper (Entrepreneur, Mr. Ferguson), Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Prosecutor, Counselor), Ariana Burks (Marjan), Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel (Ada, Facilitator), Johnathan Nieves (Chaz), Sean Parris (Defense Attorney, Principal, Facilitator), Alejandro Tey (Facilitator Captain), Emilio G. Robles, Abby Pajakowski, Krystel McNeil, Melissa DuPrey, Jasmin Cardenas, Bryan Bosque, Lindsey Barlag Thornton (Facilitators)

behind the scenes

Michael Rohd (director, creator), Courtney O’Neill (set design), Sully Ratke (costume design), JR Lederle (lighting design), Rick Sims (sound design), Joseph A. Burke (projection design), David Masnato (content creator), Cassie Calderone (stage manager), Halie Gordon (artistic director, Steppenwolf for Young Adults), Anna D. Shapiro (artistic director), David Schmitz (managing director), Michael Courier (photos)

Ariana Burks as Marjan in The Compass, Steppenwolf Young Adults


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2016 Reviews, Keith Glab, New Work, Steppenwolf, Video, World Premier, YouTube

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Ayn Rand says:

    I’ve momentarily returned from the dead to say how pleased I am that somebody has finally ripped off the basic conceit of my play “Night of January 16th”!