Actor Steve Epp enters the stage of the Southern Theater in clothes rumpled like a head of lettuce. He walks unhurriedly and looks like a geriatric patient getting air amid the concrete blocks, sandbags and a cluster of lockers with high-water flood marks that make up John Gavin-Dwyer's set.
Epp plays an ex-convict, freed after many long years in prison, who recounts his story of involuntary service in the Mississippi floods of 1927. The play is "Come Hell and High Water," which the actor adapted from William Faulkner's novella, "Old Man."
The actor tells us about the time he "died for a while," then goes over to a sink, dips his head in water and holds it there for a long time. He has good lung power.
Epp walks to another area of the stage, where he dips his face in white powder. When he rises, he resembles an old wizard.
These are some of the simple stage tricks in "Hell and High Water," a show that is a surprise in its content and staging, given that it comes from the rump company of the defunct Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Epp and director Dominique Serrand, both former Jeune Lune principals, have created a one-act that is sincere and earnest, with a large chorus of singers that delivers hymns.
The show, produced by the new Moving Company at the Southern Theater, has a generous soul. It feels like an unusual hybrid -- a campfire oratorio. I was surprised by the depth of the spiritual overtones in the one-act, themes that carry over from the novella.
Faulkner's original is full of biblical symbolism. The story revolves around two convicts in Mississippi in 1927 during a flood. They are sent down the river in a boat to rescue survivors. In his version, which captures some of Faulkner's lyrical language, Epp focuses on a single convict -- a not-too-bright would-be train robber. Actor Nathan Keepers plays the younger version of Epp's character.
The story is recounted and enacted as the convict in the boat encounters a pregnant woman (Christina Baldwin), a deer (danced by Katelyn Skelley) and, later, a woman with a child (Adia Morris).
The timely show is fairly well-acted, with Keepers and Epp doing tandem sincerity well. Still, there is an image of Baldwin washing herself that's hard to shake. And Skelley's role seems superfluous.
A few bits of the staging seem derivative. A stage image of tumbling floodwaters that uses wooden planks, turned over by the chorus crossing the stage that feels like a knockoff of the wildebeest stampede in "The Lion King." But other parts are clever, like the use of a seesaw on a pile of sandbags to suggest a boat, in a show focused on lost souls adrift.