An online space for queer, questioning, lesbian, bi, trans and everything else in between women at Yale

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pippin's Sexcapades made me Squirm

I spent my last week at Yale before summer break working on Pippin, the Dramat's commencement musical, and, although I'm certain that there's an interesting discussion in the gender roles intrinsic to the costume shop (after an afternoon spent alternately doing delicate stitchery and draping chain with a hammer and a vise, my boyfriend exclaimed "I have the best butch girlfriend ever!), I'm more interested in talking about what happened onstage.

Pippin, the show's protagonist, is a young man who becomes increasingly dissatisfied with everything. He loses interest in sex as a means to fulfilment after his participation in a raucous, but empty, orgy which occurs in the first act. As part of the choreography, Pippin is lifted by four male dancers and is briefly lowered onto a series of dancers who lie under him in a very mechanistic interpretation of the sex act.

In the original choreography, all the dancers that Pippin had sex with were female, and lay flat on their backs, until Pippin was lifted off them and they hurried out of the way of the next girl. But sometime between early rehearsals and the performance, one of the female dancers was swapped out for a male dancer, who lay on his stomach while Pippin was lowered onto him.

The dance as a whole was not strictly heteronormative. The pairings of dancers in the background were f/f as ofter as m/f, and were sometimes m/m/m/m, but it was the anal sex acted out by the protagonist that got the biggest audience reaction during performances. At every show, the m/m sex act got an enormous laugh, while the m/f pairings passed unremarked.

Sitting in the audience, I felt vaguely uncomfortable. But I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the appropriate response would be. There's something wrong when its only the gay encounter that reads as a joke, even if the entire sequence is played for laughs. At the same time, I don't know whether the real solution is to insist that homosexuality be treated as identical to and interchangeable with heterosexuality.

What reaction would you have to Pippin's encounter? What would you hope to see from an audience?


Stephen said...

As to your first question, I think you had the appropriate response to the show. Part of what makes the show work when considered at the metatheatrical perspective (which is how the Leading Player sees it) is that you, as part of the audience, are supposed to feel the same way Pippin does about what's going on onstage -- that is, vaguely uncomfortable, without any good way to release it. When you feel like that during the show, then you don't have a choice but to be complicit during the Finale. You're stuck in the same position as Pippin, where everything seems dissatisfying and the only way out is the Finale's completion, you understand his logic and his reasoning, and thus you have the expectation that he's going to do it, which pushes him further and further towards doing it. The Leading Player's plan is horrifying because of that.

I think that people laughing at the Orgy is a part of modern cultural perceptions more than anything to do with the show or the Yale production itself. Yet I think that the laughter there is misplaced. I'm just not sure how interesting the psychoanalysis of the phenomenon is. I'm more interested in why people laughed at the Finale: while it's probably easy to diagnose the heteronormative laughter at the Orgy (it's the same response that people have when they laugh at JD and Turk in Scrubs, for example), I can't for the life of me figure out why people were still laughing when everything started falling apart.

Inprogress said...

I was in one of those audiences. I don't exactly remember my reaction, but i imagine it was the same as the general crowd... unsurprised at m/f, amused at m/m. But i don't think that's so much me thinking gay sex is weird/funny as it is me being pleased to be represented. Maybe i'm just jaded with hetero sex. But pippin has a lot of tongue in cheek winks about the queerness of the theater community.

I think louis the sissy pseudovillain is kind of a bigger problem, but honestly i didn't think about it too hard.