My corner of the sky
Pippin is also one of my favorite shows. I saw it at the A.R.T. in Cambridge tonight, and it was a wonderful performance. Many of the Players were played by actual acrobats, with credits from Ringling Bros. and Les Sept Droits de la Main and other big-name big tops, and the Fosse-style choreography was blended with remarkable feats of tumbling and balancing and diving through hoops and pole-climbing. Pippin himself was played by Broadway's Spider-Man; the grandmother was one of the funniest women in the world, SCTV's Andrea Martin; Charlemagne was Terrence Mann, whom you might remember as the bounty hunter from Critters (!) as well as many many other roles. I was tucked away in the extreme right corner of the front row, which I guess is one of the "cheap seats" but gave me the experience of being embedded in the show — perfect for a show that breaks the fourth wall. I had a clear view into the stage left wing and the pit, and got sprayed with glitter and sweat and hay. When the players beckon creepily to the audience at the end of the show, I got my very own beckoner.
There were some things I'd've changed if I were the director, like dropping a few of the less-well-integrated acrobatic routines. More centrally, I think the fracture at the end would've been stronger if the Leading Player had drawn more of a contrast between her "performer" persona and her "real" persona — the farther her mask falls, the farther down the rabbit-hole the audience falls with it. Pippin works best when the boundaries between reality and theater are blurred; if the "reality" still feels stagey, the finale has less power. Pippin himself managed it, breaking character in a way that felt very real and "unprofessional," as did Catherine, and I'd've liked to see more legitimate menace from the Leading Player. But that's a pretty minor complaint — the performances were so strong, the marks hit so perfectly, the orchestrations and costumes and energy so thrummingly vibrant I can't do anything but recommend this to anyone who has a chance to see it. (They hope to take the show to New York, and I have no doubt they will.)
My own response to the show is a little complicated. I saw it at a moment when I'm questioning my own capacity to be remarkable, when I'm tightrope-walking on the edge of the abyss Pippin plunges into, trying to find my own corner of the sky and wondering if it's becoming clear that I never will. I'm not feeling receptive to the notion that an embracing an ordinary life is better than the constant striving to be exceptional. More than that, Pippin strongly recalls high school theater for me, when I was seventeen and oh-so-special and walking the stage to thunderous applause, when people were noticing me and constantly assuring me I was destined for great things. When my beckoner, the circus strongman, reached out and crooked his finger at me at the end of the finale, inviting me to sacrifice everything for one flash-paper blaze of fame, I met his eyes, glanced left and right, and mouthed, "Maybe."
He deftly incorporated that into his spiel — "Oh, maaaybe? Well..." — probably thinking either I was coming on to him or I'd missed the whole point of the show. But I was answering honestly. It's such a hard choice; it's one of the pointy cornerstones of my life. And I think everybody on that stage would feel the same temptation — which is what makes Pippin such a bone-deep show.
Anyway. Strongly recommended. (And I would like to know why there was a ventriloquist's dummy in the curtain call, so if anybody has an idea about that drop me a note. It had not been seen previously. Very freaky.)