Direct And To The Point: Pippin

This post is inspired by the current Broadway production, directed by Diane Paulus. It is certainly excellent revival, as evidenced by the four Tony awards it received. It utilizes much of (or at least harkens back to) the original Fosse choreography and adds to that a whole slew of acrobatics and circus tricks in order to fully immerse the audience in this 3 ring circus – spectacle of all spectacles.

PippinMy previous experience with Pippin was playing Berthe in college (like you do) under the direction of Louise Quick (who, among other things, was part of the original company for the original Broadway production of Pippin and assisted Bob Fosse on several projects) – so I was familiar with the show but had not revisited it for a number of years.

My thoughts are as follows…

– Too much or not enough?

My continual question with this show is whether it packs more punch if it’s super glam or if it’s tragically decrepit. I feel like I’m more familiar with the glam (or spectacle) version, which I think is certainly in keeping with the story. The leading player and his company are putting on a show filled with magic and illusion. But I wonder if there’s milage to be had if the reality is that it’s a complete wasteland and the players really having to work to make the show seem glamorous. I wonder about setting it somewhere atrocious (the thought that comes to mind is a concentration camp, or a prison, or something of that sort) and how that could punch up the stakes. I feel like the message of this show is that life is generally pretty awful. It has moments of beauty, but over all it’s painful. And yet in spite of that pain, it’s still worth living and connecting with each other. I think the more clearly unglamorous reality can be, the more poignant that becomes.

– Dancing with the devil.

I LOVE the idea of a female Leading Player. That being said I would love to see more power and danger in that character regardless of whether they are male or female. The Leading Player clearly calls the shots. She’s the one who’s orchestrating Pippin’s journey. He’s the one who has to decide to move on from portion to the next, but she’s the one who’s directing him. I think the closest we get to seeing the Leading Player as this puppet master is in how the Leading Player interacts with Catherine. I would love to see more of that with the other players as well. Catherine seems to be the only player that the Leading player has to put in her place, which makes sense. Catherine is our human anchor in the show. She’s one of the players, but of the players, she’s the one who hasn’t completely conformed to the tribe. So it makes sense that she’s the one the Leading Player has to reprimand, but I would love to see other players also be controlled by the Leading Player. The Leading Player rules by fear and manipulation. In that kind of dictatorship, you have to be constantly exerting your domination over the tribe. If all we see of the other players is how happy they are to be under The Leading Player’s charge, I think it greatly lessens how dangerous she is. The Leading Player is peddling a “happy escape” in the form of suicide, but I think it’s valuable to see the cost of that escape manifested in the other players through out. I also think it’s interesting if the Leading Player is potentially losing her grip on the tribe. I think that could potentially add to the urgency of converting Pippin. Obviously, it’s important for the Leading Player to capture Pippin (otherwise, why spend all this time and effort chasing after him) but if the Leading Player’s position is secure within the tribe, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal if Pippin gets away.

– An Emotional Journey?

I’m learning that one of the things I really want from my theatrical experiences is to have an emotional, empathetic response to the story that’s presented. I have yet to feel something with regard to watching Pippin. Which I find strange. Granted, Pippin is sort of brat. He has everything and he’s still not happy. It’s kind of hard to feel bad for him. At the same time, it’s a very human thing to be discontented with our lot in life, regardless of how good it may be. So I feel like there’s the potential for us to feel something for Pippin, but, as I say, I’ve yet to experience that. There is a part of me that wonders if the script and score are structured in a way that undercuts an emotional response, that wonders if the show is designed to be a bit Bretchian and keep an emotional connection at bay. I don’t know the answer to this, but if and when I direct this, I would love to try to find more of emotional current to it.

– Enjoy the Good Times.

Carrying the notion of goosing this story’s emotional impact forward, I think it’s important to see Pippin really fall in love with the domestic life he has with Catherine and Theo. That picture of having a home and finally belonging somewhere should be the most beautiful moment in the show. After all, this is why Pippin forgoes ending his life. Pippin flees this when it gets difficult, but in order for this to really be a loss, (and for him to realize that it’s worth struggling through the difficult parts) he needs to be fully in love with it.

– Love Song.

I think it’s important for Love Song to be honest and open and real. This is where we see Catherine in love with Pippin and Pippin equally in love with her. Not puppy love, but real love. And where previous scenes with Catherine may feel more like “performance” as per the Leading Player’s insistence, this scene should be completely true. It should also be something that each of them needs desperately, especially Catherine, who as a widow, enters into this very much as a adult. This is a situation where she was going through the motions of doing what she was ordered to do and ended up becoming emotionally invested in the result.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Post them below. The more the merrier!