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Working Magic With Pippin
by Scott Miller

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At the end of the show, after Pippin has refused to do the Grand Finale, Leading Player turns to the audience for a volunteer to do the finale in Pippin's place. He knows that there are people in the audience who feel like Pippin, like they deserve better than they've gotten from life. And he tells us that if any of us wants to do the finale, that the Players will be waiting for us, that in fact they are inside our heads. We can only assume from this last thought that the Players are all in Pippin's head -- his imagination -- too. If we accept this premise, so many of the characters and events in the show make more sense.

Pippin's family is made up entirely of stereotypes. Pippin's father Charles is the ultimate authority figure -- the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire -- whom Pippin describes as the most powerful man in the world in Scene 2. Charles is the father figure to whom Pippin can never measure up. By having Charlemagne for his father, Pippin has guaranteed that he can never be as smart, as powerful, as successful as his father. Fastrada is a typically evil step-mother who loves her own son (Lewis) more than her step-son. Lewis is the half- brother who is obviously (from Pippin's perspective) not half the man Pippin is, yet has a much easier life. Fastrada and Lewis represent a frightening and too explicit sexuality, something else of which Pippin is clearly afraid. As players in the troupe, Pippin's entire family is part of the plot to sabotage his quest and to encourage him to kill himself. Why has he created such a monstrous family in this hallucination of his? Perhaps it's a way for him to not accept blame for his failures. Perhaps they are obstacles he believes he could overcome if only he were truly extraordinary.

Lewis is Pippin's opposite. He is animal, physical; while Pippin is cerebral, spiritual. Yet Pippin envies Lewis' prowess in battle, his strength, his confidence. Lewis is the kind of man Pippin thinks Charles wants him to be -- brave, proud, never questioning. The part of Lewis is often played as a homosexual because of one line in the second scene. Pippin tells Lewis he's shocked he's interested in women. However, Pippin isn't shocked that Lewis is interested in women instead of men; he's shocked Lewis is interested in women instead of war and killing. If Lewis were gay, it would undermine the impact of the incestuous relationship clearly indicated between Fastrada and Lewis. It would also subvert Lewis' position as the masculine soldier Pippin aspires to be, yet never will be.

Because everyone is in Pippin's imagination, you can play fast and loose with period. In the original Broadway production, costume designer Patricia Zipprodt intentionally dressed Charles in period garb and Fastrada in a modern cocktail dress. Some productions go even farther, putting Lewis in the military uniform of yet another time period. As Zipprodt tells the story, Bob Fosse's directive to her was to do something magical, anachronistic, something like Jesus Christ in tennis shorts. Along with the costumes, props and set pieces can also be from various time periods. Charles can carry golf clubs or a newspaper (like Le Monde, since they're French); Fastrada can have a martini. Essentially, anything goes.

Pippin chooses for his only confidante the Leading Player, who betrays him at every turn. In several recent productions, Leading Player has been cast as a woman to add a sexual element to Pippin's seduction; this casting also gives the show a much more contemporary feel, to have a woman in the position of authority. Leading Player is the person Pippin should trust least, yet is the one he trusts most -- until he meets Catherine. But Pippin is afraid to trust her because everyone else has betrayed him. He must learn to have faith in her as he learns to have faith in himself.

The Players...

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