New American Epic by Tony Award Winning Visiting Artist Opens at UC Davis
UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance presentsthe new work Come Hell and High Water, devised and directed by Granada Artist-in-Residence and internationally renowned Dominque Serrand and co-written by Steven Epp. This epic American play explores the forces of a flood using the structure of an oratorio built from song, dance, story and character. Come Hell and High Water opens on Thursday, March 3, and continues through Sunday, March 13, at Main Theatre,Wright Hall, UC Davis.
Deviser/Director Dominique Serrand received a 2005 Tony Award for his work at Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis and was knighted in France for his contribution to the arts, among other honors. The artist had wanted to write an epic about the current United States for some time. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he found his vehicle. Although Come Hell and High Water is set in the 1920s, the humanity, suffering and American vulnerability revealed in Katrina form the core of this new work.
Serrand credits a William Faulkner novella as point of departure for the play, “I was always fascinated by Faulkner’s writing – I find it cinematographic. Upon reading his story “Old Man” which is set against the Mississippi flood of 1927, I found my way to tackle the current American disaster and all that it reflects about this country.” Come Hell and High Water is loosely based on “Old Man” with some actual quoted material.
The play focuses on the life of a convict who was jailed at age 15 for an attempted robbery when he dressed up like Jesse James to impress his girlfriend. The convict remains uneducated, naïve, and unfamiliar with sex and women throughout his 85 years behind bars. When set free by the rising of the river, the convict helps a pregnant woman marooned in a tree secure shelter and delivers her child in the process. He returns to jail largely because he does not know what else to do.
This convict character, as well as other elements in the play, allows us to see and feel the pain and extreme fragility of the American condition. In 1927 many of the levees were purposefully broken to save rich landowners with no regard for how this action demolished the homes and farms of the indigent. Serrand comments, “Any autocratic system or dictatorship eventually becomes porous to democracy.”
Many of the play’s moments elicit great tenderness and poignancy as with the movements of a doll used to illustrate various characters. Somber themes are accentuated with the a cappella singing of African American spirituals. Comic counterbalance is often provided by the young convict’s innocence. Despite his lack of education and extreme vulnerability, the convict represents hope when he can see both the storm and a brave new generation.
Because the play is a journey through different places and years, Serrand chose minimalist scenic design. “This has been most challenging,” he comments. The set is a large public space where people might gather during a disaster. With props, lighting and video, the set transforms into a prison, a cotton field, and most surprisingly, a fierce storm.
Serrand’s work with graduate student and Scenic Designer Rose Anne Raphael has been a collaborative process. Raphael remarks, “I’ve been fortunate to enter Dominique’s vision for the production, and to be exposed to his aesthetic. I’ve learned that even the most tossed-off elements need to be handled with extreme precision in terms of placement, color and other aspects; and that there is an underlying intelligence and structure to all features of the set. … Dominique likes using familiar objects in new ways – taking simple elements like a refrigerator and ladder and using them to transform the space into unexpected landscapes and uniquely expressive areas. A plank of wood on sandbags becomes a boat. A sheet lying on the floor is quickly wrapped around the waist and becomes a dancer’s skirt. He has a poetic vision that extends from the development of the script, to how he works with the actors, to his wishes for the scenic design.”
Serrand says the entire rehearsal process has been a collaboration. “I arrived at UC Davis with my third draft of the play. Rehearsals have served as a workshop helping me to cut a line here, elaborate more there. I am grateful for the talented actors who have helped me along the way, especially my two convicts, Matt and Brian.”
The role of the convict as old man is played by graduating Master of Fine Arts candidate Brian Livingston. The young convict is portrayed by Matthew Dunivan, a fourth-year dramatic arts major who says this experience is more than exciting. “Dominique is a master. You don’t need to be around him for more than two minutes to see this. I was joking with one of my cast mates the other day saying that Dominique could play every single person in the show flawlessly, including the women. He just understands humanity in such a way that he is able to dissect pieces of it and create a beautiful art piece. He isn’t the ‘in your face’ performance artist who uses very bawdy and violent imagery. Instead he just uses small strokes from life to paint a very detailed and elaborate picture.”
Rounding out the creative team are Master of Fine Arts candidates Kara Branch (costume designer), Glenn Fox (lighting designer), John Zibell (video designer) and undergraduate Dominick DiCarlo (music director). Undergraduate My-An Van serves as stage manager.
Come Hell and High Water will receive its professional world premiere in May when Serrand returns to the new (and as of yet, unnamed) production company he recently founded with Steven Epp in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Dominique Serrand Biography
Paris native Dominique Serrand was artistic director and one of the co-founders of Theatre de la Jeune Lune (1978-2008). He studied at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Mr. Serrand has acted, conceived, directed and designed (sets/ lights /video) for most Jeune Lune productions for over 30 years, concentrating primarily on directing. He has staged several operas. Mr. Serrand’s directing venues include Berkeley Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Yale Repertory Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Actors Theater of Louisville, the Guthrie Theater, the Children’s Theatre Company and the Alley Theatre, among others.
His awards include: 2006-2007 Best Production (various press organizations), The Miser in Boston, Houston, San Diego, Minneapolis, San Francisco; 2005 Tony Award, Best Regional Theater (Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Minneapolis); 2005 USA Artist Ford Foundation Fellowship; 2009 Bush Foundation Fellowship. Mr. Serrand has been knighted by the French government with the Order of Arts and Letters.
This production contains partial nudity and some profanity.
What: New epic American play devised and directed by world-renowned Dominique Serrand explores the forces of a flood using the structure of an oratorio built from song, dance, story and character.Contains partial nudity and some profanity.
Where: Main Theatre, Wright Hall, UC Davis
When: Thursday-Saturday, March 3-5, 8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, March 11-12, 8 p.m.; Sundays, March 6 & 13, 2 p.m.
Tickets: General $15/17 Students/Seniors/Children $11/13
Special Youth Group Tickets: School and youth groups of 10 or more receive a special rate of $5 per ticket at the teacher or group leader’s request. Call the UC Davis Department of Theatre & Dance at 530.752.5863 to make arrangements for this discount.