This post includes information about the Wayne Township Community Theatre’s production of “Pippin” that may help parents and teens decide whether or not to go see the show with each other. One of my regular readers asked if she should take her 12-year-old. I can not answer that because every child is different, and she knows her son much, much better than I do. However, I can give her information to help her to make her own decision about her own son.
In other words, this post contains a lot of spoilers. If you want to read my “regular” review, which includes only the regular amount of spoilers, please skip to the next post.
A wholesome young man (Doug Messinger) is plucked out of the audience by a motley troupe of Players looking for someone gullible to be Pippin in their show. The Leading Player (Dane Rogers) is darkly seductive, but Pippin doesn’t sense his manipulative nature or his untrustworthiness. Pippin only knows that he wants his life to have meaning and that he doesn’t know how to accomplish it. Maybe by hanging out with these Players, he will find out.
The Players are like circus performers: all shapes and sizes, and creepy-attractive. They play a variety of roles within Pippin’s story, from Visigoths to Monks to Bed Dancers. They include (in alphabetical order): Michaela Adams, William Andrews, Chelsie Caldwell, Mason Corbin, Shawn Evans, Sarah Hoback, Windi Hornsby, Mark P. Jackson, Casey Lewinski, Bradley Lowe, Kyrsten Pruitt, Matt Riegel, Lacey Ring-Verbik, Sarah Schultz, and Krystal Sommers.
We hear and see Pippin’s life story as it is happening, rather than being shown it in the past tense. The immediacy is seductive, too.
I had never seen this show before, but four of the songs used to be included in every high school show choir concert and in every talent portion of the Indiana’s Junior Miss competition when I was a teenager. Until this weekend, I had always thought of them as cheerful, happy, role-modeling songs. But in the context of Pippin’s story, their brightness becomes chilling.
The Leading Player’s invitation to “join us,” for example, implies that there is “Magic to Do” in leading Pippin astray. Pippin’s yearning to find his own “Corner of the Sky” is not about authenticity but about immaturity. Pippin and the Players singing about “Morning Glow” is about the “joy” of him becoming king after killing his father rather than the anticipation of something truly joyful. “Extraordinary” is not a song about self-esteem but about selfishness.
And everyone in Pippin’s life seems to fail him. His glamorous mother, Fastrada (Susan Smith), is obsessed with his younger brother, Lewis (Joshua Breece), who is handsome, strong, and a good soldier, but sort of empty-headed. His powerful father, Charles (Ray Middleton), values Pippin’s intelligence and education over Lewis’s brawn, but he doesn’t know how to communicate with him – not about how to be a leader or how to be a man. And he doesn’t get why Pippin throws up after joining him and his army in battle.
Berthe, Pippin’s lusty grandmother (Adrienne Reiswerg), is the only one who gives him true wisdom. But even her advice to embrace life here and now in her song, “No Time at All” includes the urge to “take a little from this world” rather than to give a little.
Pippin interprets her advice to mean that he should have sex with everyone he can. This, like war, only leaves him feeling “restless and useless.”
Next, he tries politics. And murder in the name of society’s greater good. However, he fails in his own attempt to be king – the job is much more complicated and challenging than it looks. He gives the crown back to his father, who conveniently comes back to life when Pippin asks for his knife back.
Pippin tries art, he tries the church…everything leaves him feeling “useless and restless.” Nothing seems to be the right way for Pippin to make his life meaningful.
He even falls in love. A beautiful widow, Catherine (Heidi VanSlamsbrook), and her young son, Theo (Mason Corbin), rescue Pippin from where he has fallen in a heap of despair at the side of the road. Catherine first brings him to her home because she is attracted to the arch of his foot (isn’t that always the way?!) and she has her own methods of manipulation, but she also comes to truly love Pippin for himself.
However, after six months of living with them, when Catherine invites Pippin to sit at the head of her table, he flees, afraid that long-term intimacy will equal monotony instead of making his life meaningful.
Now, when Pippin thinks there is nothing left to try, the Leading Player tells him there is still the Finale. The ultimate act of glory. Suicide.
The Leading Player even has one of the other Players demonstrate: just hop in this box and set yourself on fire. Voila! The Player comes out from behind the curtain alive and well. Everyone cheers.
But Pippin knows it is a trick. He chooses to “compromise” his life instead and go back to Catherine. Nothing, NOTHING has turned out as he had expected, but life with Catherine and Theo will be better than suicide.
This disappoints the Leading Player and makes him angry. He orders the Players to strip Pippin and Catherine of their costumes and makeup, and to clear the stage of all decoration. He orders the lights out and the orchestra silenced. “Take your hands off the damn keys!” he barks at the pianist. Pippin and Catherine are left standing in near darkness in their (very chaste) underwear, but they are standing hand-in-hand and they are more or less strong and content to be with each other.
On Saturday night, the audience thought this was the end and started to applaud. But it is not the end.
In the near darkness, we hear young Theo sing in a high, clear voice: “Rivers belong where they can ramble…Eagles belong where they can fly…I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free…Gotta find my corner of the sky…” The Players, delighted to have a new toy, gather around him in a suffocating clump, and the cycle begins again.I interpreted the message of this show to be “Love is the answer” but it could just as easily be “Because of human nature and the nature of life, we are all doomed to despair.” It is a wonderful show for discussion.
If you are a parent and you’re wondering if you should go see this with your middle schooler, or vice versa, I don’t think it will embarrass either of you too much.
There is some adult language. For example, Pippin’s father, after Pippin’s mother has told him she has already spent her allowance for the month, says, “Sometimes I think the fornicating I’m getting isn’t worth the fornicating I’m getting.” But that’s the only “f-word.”
Pippin’s exploration of sex in the first act involves all of the female players and a few of the males rubbing their hands over Pippin’s body all at once until his shirt comes off, as he writhes in ecstasy. I’ll admit that the way Doug Messinger throws his head back during this scene made me think of him in new ways, but I don’t think that anything in the scene will make a parent have to answer sex education questions before you’re ready. Or rather, you may have to answer questions, but the show won’t provide answers that you don’t think your child is ready for.
In the second act, Pippin and Catherine make love under a red sheet while two of the Players (Chelsie Caldwell and Bradley Lowe) dance. The dancers’ interpretation is graceful and funny rather than titillating. The first time does not go well, and the dancers limp off stage. But the second time is…”yowza!” As the Leading Player sings, it is “sex presented pastorally” rather than graphically. Again, a parent might get asked questions, but it will be an opportunity to provide your own, child-appropriate answers, rather than a presentation of too much information.
During the battle scene, body parts are thrown around while the Leading Player and a few of the others do a soft shoe/tap dance. The scene is gory-funny rather than gory-horrifying…but it does make a strong statement about the callousness of war.
Pippin’s conversation with a decapitated head on a stake may give some young people nightmares; it is very cleverly done.
When Pippin kills his father at prayer, he stabs him in the back with a knife. Charles falls very realistically, and lies on the proscenium of the stage even after the lights come up for intermission. It is a somber scene. But, if you wait a few moments before going out in the lobby to buy a soda from the Chess Club, you will see a crew member come out to “wake up” the dead king. She brings the actor back out and helps him fall back into position just before the lights go down for Act Two, as well.
The scene at the end where the Leading Player is pressuring Pippin to commit suicide makes me cry and want to call out, “Don’t do it! Oh, sweetie, don’t do it!” Is such a scene too violent for a 12-year-old? I don’t know.
I do think that this show offers an easy opportunity for parents to say to their teens afterwards, “You know, don’t you, that I would be heartbroken if you killed yourself? It would not be a perfect, glory-filled act. It would be devastating to the people who love you, like me. I may not say ‘I love you’ to you every day, but I would miss you like hell if you left. You know that, right?”
If you are a parent, your teens will be embarrassed then, but they will file away your words in their hearts.
If you’re a teen and you believe your parents are over-protective, taking them to see this show with you would offer the opportunity for you to say to them afterwards, “You know, I get that Pippin was worse off after having all that loveless, unprotected, pre-marital sex. And I get that suicide is not the answer. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m glad you love me. I love you, too.”
Your parents may not ease up on your curfew right away, but they will appreciate hearing your words.
Of course, both parents and teens should be sure that their actions back up their words. And that’s a life journey in and of itself.
Wayne Township Community Theatre’s production of “Pippin” runs one more weekend, through August 17, 2008. The Ben Davis High School Theatre is fairly large, so tickets are usually available at the door. You may also call 317-390-0363 to make a reservation. Note: Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7:30pm (not 8:00pm, as you might expect.) The show ends around 10:00pm, with one intermission. The seats are blissfully comfortable.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com