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Come Hell and High Water

The ancient Greeks had the five rivers of Hades, Noah faced that notorious flood, and come March, the Davis community will be able to experience the Theatre and Dance Department’s Come Hell and High Water, an original oratorio devised and directed by world-renowned Granada artist-in-residence Dominique Serrand.

Based on William Faulkner’s novella Old Man, Serrand’s adaptation follows a young convict’s odyssey adrift the Mississippi River following a flood. Originally published in the 1930s, Faulkner’s tale of survival takes place in the interim years between World War I and World War II. Although Come Hell and High Water retains the same period setting as its source material, Dominique Serrand’s take will inevitably be associated with much more recent events. In today’s world, it’s impossible to disassociate the image of rising water from the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina or the more recent floods in Haiti and Australia — a fact that Serrand is keenly aware of.

“I wanted to do something that had to do, in a poetic way, with Katrina,” said Serrand, chatting in-between rehearsals at Wright Hall’s Main Theatre. “But I didn’t want to do a show about Katrina.” Rather than stage an explicit retelling of a tragedy so ”extraordinarily impossible, unimaginable, that it becomes almost fictitious,” Serrand turned to the novella that his collaborator, Steven Epp, had read years earlier.

Serrand was drawn to more than just the narrative content of Old Man. To Serrand, Faulkner’s writing style “reminds me of the river and the flood…his vocabulary, his syntax, his long paragraphs were so parallel to the flood itself that I thought, these would be great companions.” About a year and a half ago, Serrand began developing Come Hell and High Water with friends and musicians. These workshops convinced Serrand to structure the performance as an oratorio, a type of narrative concert with less theatrical action than an opera.

“There’s something already musical in Faulkner’s descriptions,” said Serrand, “and there’s no way we could do the show without music if we’re talking about the Delta.” Considered the birthplace of blues, jazz, and rock and roll, the Mississippi Delta has a long and storied musical history, which Come Hell and High Water dramatizes in its inclusion of a number of dissimilar genres. “I go from barbershop to quartet to blues to country,” said Serrand. “I use two pieces that are opera. So there’s really a wide range. The mix of styles is extremely rich and emotionally very beautiful.”

A native of France, where he was knighted by the French government with the Order of Arts and Letters, Serrand has worked extensively throughout Europe and the United States, acting, directing, and designing sets. He co-founded the Theatre de la Jeune Lune and, in the past decade alone, has won a Tony, been granted the USA Artist Ford Foundation and Bush Foundation Fellowships, and received multiple awards for his critically adored restaging of The Miser in 2007. Despite his prestigious pedigree, Serrand is grateful for the opportunity to work in small-town Davis and do his part to encourage university-sponsored arts. As a result of his commitment to arts education, Come Hell and High Water will feature an all-student cast.

Ultimately, Serrand hopes that Come Hell and High Water will be more “celebrative” than sobering. “I’m not interested in delivering a message with a hammer,” he commented. “I’m much more interested in rethinking the theatrical form itself and how we can reignite the spirit of celebration that happens when you see a really beautiful piece of theatre, something that connects completely with you.” Bursting with music, emotion, and mythology, Come Hell and High Water promises to do exactly that.

Come Hell and High Water will premiere March 3 at Main Theatre in Wright Hall and will run every weekend until March 13th. For more details, please see the Department of Theatre & Dance.

Story credit: Kathleen Martinelli

This page was last updated: February 14, 2011



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