COMPULSION - Thursdays through Sundays until August 17 at the New Back Alley Theater.

If there was some good reason to fictionalize and dramatize the pitiful 1924 Leopold Loeb murder case, playwright Meyer Levin didn't find it. Which makes the well-staged revival of "Compulsion" by the New Back Alley Theater largely an empty exercise.

When he wrote the novel and play almost a quarter-century ago, Levin thinly veiled and heavily fictionalized the "thrill killing" of young Bobby Franks by a pair of bright, rich and weird Chicago teenagers.

His purpose, he claimed, was to oppose capital punishment, but his method mocked that pretension. Levin traded on the sensationalism of the crime to hype sales and grossly distorted the fact where the truth eluded or didn't suit him. The result was such garbage that one of the murderers sued him from prison and won.

Although generally well performed by the New Back Alley players, "Compulsion" still has all of the stink and none of the shine of a rotten mackerel by moonlight. Searching for truth is the only excuse for paddling around in the cesspools of human frailty, and finding some is the only justification for displaying the results.

Back Alley's energy and talent should have been applied to a work like "In Cold Blood," which is equally horrid but true.