Play ponders disasters both real and metaphoricalby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis, Minn. — Sometimes real life and art collide in remarkable ways. Such is the case with "Come Hell and High Water," a new show by the Moving Company which opens this weekend at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.
The play, about flooding in the Mississippi delta, comes as many communities along the river are battling rising waters today. That's just the first of many confluences in the show.
Moving Company actor Steve Epp says the play is inspired by a William Faulkner novella called "Old Man," which is about a devastating flood along the Mississippi River in 1927.
"And you follow a young convict who went into prison when he was 17, and gets commandeered to rescue a woman stuck in a tree. And once he finds her, it gets biblical," said Epps.
Nathan Keepers plays the convict as a young man in 1927. Epp appears as the same convict as a much older man, who survives long enough to live through Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In the play, history repeats itself in a way.
"The story is retold from this old convict who has just been freed because the winds are coming from the gulf. And they didn't know how to keep people in, so they released them," said director Dominique Serrand. "He tells people -- in this warehouse space where they are waiting for the winds, the hurricane to get in -- he tells his story."
"A man can only do what he has to do with what he has to do it with, with what he's learned, to the best of his judgment," the old man says in the play. "Unless you get caught."
Sitting in the Southern Theater lobby with Serrand, Epp and Nathan Keepers, it's impossible not to hear echoes of the past amidst the shades of the present.
All three made their names with Theater de la Jeune Lune, the Tony-Award winning company which folded a few years back due to financial difficulties. The Southern now faces its own money problems, and it's important this show does well for everyone's bottom line.
"We go from one flood to the next," said Serrand, although he remains ever confident. "We are pretty good so far, getting the water out of the boat and keeping the artists doing their work."
Serrand and Epp formed the Moving Company about two years ago. They have been developing several projects, while working and traveling with other groups, as has Nathan Keepers.
Keepers has been performing in New York and Washington D.C. Yet he says he didn't feel the sense of ownership as an artist that he had while working with Epp and Serrand.
"Coming back to that is really moving for me," he said. "When we are in the room, it just -- it's right."
The Moving Company first did "Come Hell and High Water" as a workshop at the University of California-Davis last year. Company members hope it will get picked up for production elsewhere.
Serrand says the Moving Company is now working on a national scale, with the Twin Cities as home. The company presented work at the Humana Festival in Kentucky last year, and is now developing a commission for the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles. It's about the Afghan leader Massoud, who was assassinated two days before 9/11.
Serrand says it's a complicated tale, and the show itself will be ambitious.
"It could be an eight-hour show, easily," he said. "We are going to keep it down to three hours probably, two-and-a half or three. But really there is eight hours of material."
Serrand predicts it will tax the resources of the Centre Theater, and their own, but company members are excited about the project.
For now the focus is on the stage of the Southern Theater for the three-week run of "Come Hell and High Water."
- All Things Considered, 05/13/2011, 4:45 p.m.