At the start of Trinity Players' performance of "Pippin," the large cast, decked out in colorful frocks, wild makeup and masks, sings out lustily, "We've got miracle plays to play."
They do. Like a bawdy circus, they smirk and smile, flip and tumble, dance a pas de deux and a striptease. And there's more: glitter and ribbons, saxophones and tambourines, pretty ladies and young men. Stuffed to bursting, it's a musical that demands spirit from its players, to prance around and show off.
Clearly, it's an ambitious agenda for any small theater group. But the performers of this good-time-had-by-all affair are having a great time. Enjoyment for the audience easily follows.
Pippin (Randy A. Fink), son of the great ruler Charlemagne (Donald Neal), is a 9th century schlub. Wan and without direction, he frets and mopes about finding meaning in life. Egged on by the Leading Player (Will Wright), a kind of master of ceremonies of his life, Pippin tries everything: war, sex, revolution, art and religion. None of it helps him find, as he sings whinily, "my corner of the sky." His journey is sprinkled with advice from his revved-up granny Berthe (Linda High), treachery from his overly muscled brother (Ed Ratcliffe) and tartish stepmother (LeAnne Golden), and love from the simple widow Catherine (Elizabeth Sorrentino).
The many performers seem to handle the material well, and casting is on target. A standout is Wright, who eases the pace along as the storyteller. And Sorrentino's brightly sweet performance as an "ordinary kind of woman" sneaks up on you as she does on Pippin's heart. The set deserves applause for its cleverness, and the costumes never fail to please.
But the group does not negotiate everything so smoothly. The show's weakest point is the tendency of the cast not to sing it out loud and clear. The dancing is left-footed and klutzy, save for a few obviously trained dancers. And the lighting needs to be refined, because it is one of the key gimmicks of this magic show.
In a way, "Pippin," a play made in the '70s, could drop into the '80s comfortably. Though it has that touchy-feely tone and find-yourself self-consciousness of the earlier era, it speaks of a familiar theme for today's yuppies. As Pippin sings achingly, "I won't rest until I know I'll have it all," we know what's coming inevitably. After we have it all, why aren't we happy?
By the end, the musical sorts that all out in an enormously innovative way, and on a bare stage Pippin finds out that life isn't all magic shows and miracles. Saddled with a new wife and child, he's "trapped but happy." Not a bad end for a musical. Not bad for life either.
The play, written by Roger O. Hirson, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, runs tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 8 p.m., and Oct. 11 at 2:30 p.m. at the Trinity Theatre, 36th and O streets NW. Tickets are $9. For information, call 965-4680.