There's been great anticipation around the debut production of The Moving Company, in part because it is not so much a debut as a reunion for these veteran Twin Cities performers. Dominique Serrand, Steve Epp, Nathan Keepers and Christina Baldwin were all members of the critically acclaimed Theatre de la Jeune Lune before it closed in 2008.
The Moving Company's first full production, "Come Hell and High Water," runs through May 29 at the Southern Theater. Thinking of going? Check out these reviews:
Steve Epp, Nathan Keepers, and Christina Baldwin in "Come Hell and High Water"
All photos by Aaron Fenster
The punch in this telling comes more from its images than from its story, and director Serrand's staging has crammed this production full of sense-tickling stimuli. Water is an ever-present motif in this story - almost a character in itself - and Serrand finds all kinds of ways to reference its omnipresent force. Water is sprayed, spat and spilled. It's used as a percussion instrument. It paints the floors. And in a breathtaking finale, the sound, sight and feel of it threaten to spill across the stage and into the audience.
...In other hands, this melange of song, story and image - jammed into a production that lasts just over 90 minutes - might feel overwhelming or overstuffed. But Serrand and his collaborators are working at a high level of artistry and sophistication, and if "Come Hell and High Water" brims with anything, it does so with grace and beauty.
Steve Epp and Nathan Keepers play the older and younger versions of the same character in "Come Hell and High Water," a device they also employed in the Theatre de la Jeune Lune production "Gulliver."
Come Hell and High Water works best in the moments between the story, where the chorus of singers and performers bring the rising tide of the river or the drudgery of the cotton field to life. Then there is the music, ranging from modern folk to rock to Mozart (always a favorite for Serrand and Epp), brought to life through Christina Baldwin's magnificent voice.
Some of it is breathtaking, including a split-second transformation that completely changes the stream of the narrative about midway through, and the rain-soaked finale. The merging of music, movement, and drama is definitely something that Serrand and Epp are well known for from their Jeune Lune days, and here it serves the story remarkably well.
Christina Baldwin, Nathan Keepers, Steve Epp and Katelyn Skelley in "Come Hell and High Water"
Water is splashed, sprayed and drops as rain from above; gunshots ring out (two athletic shoes slapped together); lumber waves above our heads and lands in perfect rows on the other side of the stage to construct another locale. Their staging is not only endlessly inventive, it all works together.
What's problematic about this play is that it's hard to care very much about this journey. The characters didn't seem to connect emotionally with each other, so I had little invested emotionally in them. If they don't care particularly about this journey, why should I?
Nevertheless, it raises questions of race and prejudice, injustice, politics, education - any number of social issues relevant in 1927 and still relevant today. And I applaud this company for not playing safe, for pairing the unlikely, for seeing theater itself as a journey, rather than as a means to an end at the box office. This play might not have accomplished everything that was intended, but it is provocative enough to make me want to see what they'll do next time.
Have you seen "Come Hell and High Water?" If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.