The Lewis Center for the Arts will present the musical Pippin, a senior thesis theater project featuring senior Adam Hyndman and directed by Program in Theater faculty member Tracy Bersley. Performances will be held on April 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21 at 8:00 p.m. in the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton.
Pippin was created by musical theater and film composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote the musicals Godspell, Children of Eden, and the current Broadway hit Wicked. Pippin, based loosely on the life of the son of French medieval King Charlemagne, was written in 1972 at a time when America was divided over involvement in the war in Vietnam. Director Bersley describes this production as a darkly reimagined tale of love and fear and places the story in modern times investigating the traumas of a young soldier’s past. “Exploring war’s effect on the human psyche, our version of Pippin delves into the complicated psychology of post-traumatic stress disorder by investigating the idea of how armed conflict can undermine a man’s consciousness,” she explains. “Using the familiar score in fresh arrangements, the production’s Music Director Vince di Mura breathes new life into the score in the spirit of jazz improvisation helping to tell the story of a broken mind learning to be whole.”
Bersley notes, “Stephen Schwartz integrated the themes of stress and strife by giving Pippin its characteristically dark irony, particularly with regard to war. Given Schwartz’s political and social background we decided to craft a production which fully explores the question of how war and familial relationships can affect the psychology of one man. In looking at the character from this lens, you are able to see someone who is riddled with guilt, confusion, anger, and fear over the things that he saw, things that he did but didn’t want to do, and things he regrets.”
In an unusual casting move, one actor, senior Adam Hyndman, will play the roles of both Pippin and the Leading Player, a sort of master of ceremonies in the play. “In proposing this show as my senior thesis project,” explains Hyndman, an anthropology major, “I was interested in the underlying struggles that post-traumatic stress can trigger. The two characters are sometimes allies, sometimes enemies, and represent the two halves of the soldier’s fractured brain. His addled mind has created a deep rift between the innocent self and jaded, broken self. This production is the exploration of how to come to wholeness. Playing both parts is incredibly exciting, terrifying, and disorienting all at the same time.” Adds Bersley, “Choosing the difficult path–living honestly day in and day out–will not offer an end to one man’s suffering but perhaps it will start the healing process. While darkly reimagined, our rendering retains a hopeful twist.”
Bersley is familiar to Princeton audiences having directed a number of Theater Program productions including The Winter’s Tale, A Streetcar Named Desire, and House of Blue Leaves, and as a director of productions at McCarter Theatre where she completed a directing residency in 1999-2000, collaborating with such artists as Sam Shepard, David Mamet, and Emily Mann. She has directed and choreographed for numerous other universities and theater companies such as New York University, The Juilliard School, the Public Theatre, The Acting Company, PS 122, and Lincoln Center in productions ranging from new adaptations to Shakespeare to opera.
In addition to his major in anthropology, Hyndman is pursuing a certificate in the Program in Theater at the Lewis Center, and has also taken a number of classes in the Program in Dance, recently performing in several pieces in Princeton’s Spring Dance Festival. “The opportunities provide by the Lewis Center have facilitated my development as a scholar and a performer in the arts,” notes Hyndman. “What I learn as a scholar in the arts continually informs my craft and creativity as an artist.”
“We are excited to present this new look at a classic musical,” notes Tim Vasen, Acting Director of the Program in Theater. “As an academic program we encourage our students to push beyond the expected and look anew at familiar stories. The results are remarkably fresh and offer a new, contemporary take. We are pleased,” he continues, “to then invite the community in to experience these novel and innovative interpretations.” In the coming weeks the Program will present a new play written by a senior Theater student inspired by Albert Camus’ famous essay on the myth of Sisyphus, entitled Roll!, and a new adaptation of the ancient Greek comedy The Birds with a new script and newly composed music by a student team.