Using a pair of floods nearly 80 years apart and based on a William Faulkner novella, Come Hell and High Water offers a fascinating and sometimes moving portrayal of a convicted man dedicated to doing the task he was assigned.
Produced by the MovingCompany, the show comes from the minds of Dominique Serrand and Steve Epp, two of the creative forces behind Theatre de la Jeune Lune.
The action is split between 2005, when the Old Man (Steve Epp) is released from prison on the eve of Katrina after more than 80 years behind bars. When asked, he begins to tell the story of his long incarceration, focusing on an adventure he had in the 1927 flood. Nathan Keepers brings the younger version to life, who--after an epic fail of a train robbery--enters prison as a teenager and learns about the world from a state-run cotton field.
[jump] Six years in, the Mississippi begins to swell its banks and the Convict and other prisoners are assigned to sandbag. Early one morning, the Warden (Cory Hinkle) gives him an assignment: take a skiff, find a woman in a tree (and a man on top of a house), and bring them back. Unable to control the boat, the Convict misses the second task, but eventually finds the woman, who is nearly about to give birth. With little control of their route, they float downstream to Louisiana, the Convict wanting nothing more than to get the woman to safety and finish his job.
That's the plot, but 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.
Give plenty of credit to Nathan Keepers, who keeps the Convict true to himself; a not-too-bright man who wants to do right and to finish the task he was assigned, even if it takes some detours and quite a bit more time than originally intended.
Come Hell and High Water runs through May 29 at the Southern Theater.