Dominique Serrand and Steve Epp are by no means ready to retire to rocking chairs and wax on about the glory days at Theatre de la Jeune Lune.
Serrand and Epp — along with Nathan Keepers and Christina Baldwin — appear serious about their endeavor to move on with the appropriately named the Moving Company. The results are reminding many of us what it was like when the young Jeune Luners sat down in a theater and started creating, with confidence and a quest to burrow deeply into the myths that animate life.
“Out of the Pan Into the Fire” opened last weekend at the Southern Theater (a seminal spot on the Jeune Lune nostalgia tour) with physical trickery, buffoonery, wise and penetrating emotions and a grim (make that Grimm) statement of truth on the simple brutality of existence. There are stunning moments of operatic tragedy, shocking violence (blood, even) and more theatrical tricks than you could shake a stick at. This is, after all, a fairy tale, strung along the wire of broad archetypes and capricious fates.
Serrand has constructed a dystopian universe from scrap wallboard, cardboard and steel tubing. It’s ugly, but functional. And so furious is the action that by the end of the evening, this drab landscape will be trashed with debris — the wages of life. Epp, Baldwin and Keepers portray — in order — the old parent stooped with age, the brilliant but fearful intellect and the throbbing id of recklessness.
Or put into fairy tale parlance: There once was a poor man who lived in a huge overcoat that weighed on his shoulders; in his home were 13 chairs — one for each of his children. All but two had gone off to find their fortunes. Shy Elsie had great knowledge but she stayed in her room, for she feared the experiences of the world; her brother, foolish Thirteen, was constantly into mischief and fearless about stepping outside his front door. One day, when the old man left, the two children are visited by an evil witch who ... ah, but you’ll have to see the rest of the story.
Epp brings his dust-dry wit with an air of weariness to old Angelo. Nerdy glasses frame Baldwin’s big plaintive eyes as she conveys Elsie’s timidity. Keepers does that Jerry Lewis thing of his, unafraid of any pratfall and eager to take as much abuse as the story can dish out.
With all this natural comic energy at work, the most astonishing thing about “Out of the Pan” is how genuine the pathos feels. Fairy tales are wonderfully wrought works of great emotional depth. Serrand and his confreres adhere to that aesthetic throughout. These guys still have something to say.