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Working Magic With Pippin
by Scott Miller

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False appearances and artificiality play a big part in Pippin. His whole life is just a play, populated by stage sets, props, and actors; nothing is real. He is surrounded by a family who isn't really his family; they're just portraying his family. Fastrada is never what she seems to be; she pretends to love Charles, yet helps Pippin plan his assassination, and she continually calls herself an ordinary housewife and mother, which she clearly is not. In the production I directed for New Line Theatre, we cast the same actor as both Charles and his mother Berthe to remind the audience that these people are only actors, and not Pippin's real family.

But nobody pretends more than Pippin himself. He pretends to be a soldier, yet with Vietnam still fresh in the original Broadway audiences' minds, Pippin finds he has neither the stomach or enthusiasm for it. In fact, the show's anti-war statements are particularly disturbing considering the time frame, most notably in "Glory" and its softshoe dance break through a battlefield of dismembered limbs -- as with most of Fosse's work, it's both funny and macabre. Pippin pretends to be a politician yet has absolutely no understanding of being a leader. Despite Charles' attempt to teach Pippin a last lesson in being king before Pippin kills him, Pippin still believes being king will be easy. Yet when he has to make life and death decisions, when the full responsibility of leading an empire bear down upon him, he crumbles under the weight. Like many people, he wants the power and privilege, but not the accountability.

Pippin's biggest masquerade is as a monk in the chapel at Arles. Pippin enters dressed in monk's robes in order to get close enough to Charles to kill him. Compounding the charade is the fact that it isn't really Charles -- it's a player playing Charles. Charles pretends not to know it's Pippin, although he must know; why else would he offer Pippin this last lesson in being king? Pippin's monk disguise also reverses the roles of father and son; Charles calls Pippin "Father" as he would a monk or priest, and Pippin calls Charles "my son." The icing on the cake is that Charles' death isn't even real -- Pippin later asks for his dagger back and Charles stands up and gives it back to him. The entire scene is filled with deception, contradiction, and falsehood -- except for the truth that Charles tries to pass on to Pippin in his monologue about the price that must be paid for order. Like all leaders, Charles knows there are always sacrifices necessary to achieve progress, but Pippin doesn't understand that, and his inability to see both sides of issues will bring about his failure as king.

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