Tuesday, July 29, 2014
To Be or Not to Be?
The above scene is from a 1982 revival of Pippin. The theater group that has been leading the son of Charlemagne through all the occupations and pleasures of life, only to confront him with a final option to provide meaning in his life: set himself on fore as great final act in the circus they have been presenting to the audience, us.
Notice how the Leading Player (Ben Vereen) and Fastrada (the evil step-mother, saucily and comically portrayed to this point by Chita Rivera), suddenly interact for the first time in the show, how in their dancing around Pippin, each mirrors the other--he moves in, she moves out, she moves out, he moves in--and there they are, allied in persuading our protagonist to die a horrible death.
The friendly mentor and the comic villainess, and the whole gallery of characters in Pippin's life (father, step-mother, grandmother, half-brother, friends) we've seen (save one), are allies in this performance to convince Pippin that self-destruction is a glorious way to go.
They fail, in the play. For now. This time.
Pippin has a reputation as a light play. It's actually quite dark; a surreal exploration of the power of the human mind to reject the simple good things at hand, and persuade itself that it is far better to go out in a blaze of glory than to enjoy mundane happiness.
Why is this on my mind tonight, you might ask. The show occurred to me in speaking with an old friend tonight who starred in it in our youth. But also, I have been struck through reading the news by the question of what is it in our modern society that makes us half in love with death? Seriously. Between the Middle East, Russia and the Ukraine, and innumerable other conflicts at home and around the globe, an appreciable body of people seem to prefer the spurious charms of Ragnarök to the simple beauty of life.