Pippin strange and satisfying show
Pippin is a weird play. It doesn’t have a proper ending and it takes place entirely inside the mind of its main character. But it is precisely its unconventional nature, its casual acknowledgement of the audience and its over the top humor that make Pippin an ideal musical for a group of students to prepare over Winter Term. It features a chorus of funny, enthusiastic singing hallucinations who argue fervently that the man imagining them should commit suicide. Add an 11-bodied lesbian love scene, loud simulated sex, a reference to a “posture ex-co” and an overt mockery of Christian values, and Pippin lives up to all of Oberlin’s stereotypes.
As a Winter Term project, the production was as much a giant acting class as a musical. Excluding Pippin, members of the cast were encouraged to create personas, such as “Sophie: A former mail-order bride; was dumped by Pippin,” and “Phllox: Stole Pippin from Sophie, but he dumped her also,” so that they could stay in character at all times before and during performances.
They also focused on working within and broadening everyone’s comfort zone on stage, which could explain why some actresses eagerly stripped to their bras and undies while others stayed safely inside tank tops and slips during the humorous and mildly shocking “orgy” scene. The players practiced several hours each day and received credit for their hard work.
Held in the small and untheatrical venue of Wilder Main and produced in less than a month, this production of Pippin was hardly full-scale. The choreography was simple, often allowing the cast a means forrearranging the set, which consisted largely of stackable black boxes. The props, which included an unpainted wooden sword, a map of Middle Earth and a large blue bong added visual humor and reminded the audience not to take the play too seriously.
The play was fun to watch and it was evident the entire time that everyone involved had fun making it. Graham Clark’s clear tenor voice was well suited for the role of Pippin. However, Clark’s portrayal of the sensitive and intelligent college graduate was whiny and girlish in a way that might be construed by some as humorous, but was often just annoying. Anne Mosbacher was funny as the defiant but sweet Catherine, while her pleasant soprano voice proved to be one of the best in the production. College sophomore Rebecca Gordon was excellent as Pippin’s proud and pious father, King Charlemagne. Her controlled alto voice and comic timing both lent themselves well to the part. Ethan Baldwin’s active facial expressions and commanding stage presence were perfect for the role of Leading Player, who bears the responsibility of narrating the show, effectively setting the pace and energy level for the rest of the cast.
The singing was on the whole average, though in the end that didn’t seem to matter. The cast of Pippin was high in energy and spirit, and what they offered was a world of magic, of humor, of possibility and of raw theatre. This was not a traditional musical, and it was better that way. Pippin was entertainment, it made everyone laugh, and it was a success.