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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Theater Review: Songs and struggle rain down at Come Hell and High Water

Come Hell and High Water is filled with meaningful, old-fashioned songs, raw emotions and an incredible stream of consciousness that jumps between three – sometimes four – incredible characters.

The main character, a convict who is portrayed separately in his old age and as a young man, has been imprisoned in Mississippi for robbery. The play goes on to show how this convict, who has the same inkling of intellect as Forrest Gump, is accidentally freed during a flood only to be imprisoned once more. The play, written by Granada Artist-in-Residence Dominique Serrand, is loosely based on a true story.

The setting is dark with one single spotlight shining from the left side onto the middle of the stage before the play begins. Sandbags are strewn about, which makes sense since the play jumps back and forth between Mississippi in 1927 and New Orleans in 2005.

The majority of the play is a monologue narration of sorts that switches between both the young and the old versions of the convict, as well as the warden. It’s interesting to have multiple perspectives on the same story because it makes the connection between them more prevalent. There are a total of four convicts in the entire piece, all of which are clad in dirty black-and-white-striped prison jumpsuits, letting the audience know that they are working like cattle.

Their faces are made up convincingly; it resembles tar, mud and other kinds of filth. The costumes perfectly capture the two time periods, as the warden is dressed in a nice suit with a trench coat over it and a hat, a bright contrast to the convicts and their overworked attire. The girlfriend of the young convict is clad in a pretty white and pink dress, white pumps and a ’30s-style hat, showing she has money.

The other ladies onstage, who sing with the other guys throughout the performance, enter in a number of costumes ranging from normal clothing to older, ragged dresses to raincoats, reflecting the constant change of mood that the old man and the young convict communicate to the audience.

The female cast members sing during the majority of the play while acting as female prisoners and regular people in the warehouse at different points, adding to the cotton fields that the old man or the young convict had said he and the prisoners worked on. One girl plays the saxophone as the others sing, bringing a very jazzy blues feel to the play.

The rain is a very interesting and significant improvisation. The girls, two of which are in yellow raincoats while the other girls are in ugly dresses at one scene, drip water from sponges and rags into big pots, making that all-too-familiar sound of raindrops outside. Soon thereafter, a couple of the girls standing at the sinks start splashing the water with their hands to a rhythmic beat, starting another song.

The cast sings sad, chain gang-type songs to the beat of either a rhythmic banging on the wall or splashing water in the three sinks. The songs personify their constant suffering through back-breaking work and a hard life. The sounds and naturalness of rain are very well communicated, especially at the end when a couple of sprinklers or sprayers hanging from the ceiling bring rain down on the stage, suggesting continuity and purity. That’s certainly not a common feature of plays shown at UC Davis.

Another impressive detail about the play is the actress who plays a deer. She mimics the slow but jerky head movements, the eyes-caught-in-the-headlights stare, and grace of a woodland creature so well it’s hard to believe she isn’t hypnotized.

Overall, the songs, singers and musicians are skilled, the actors, actresses and improvisations are all fantastic, and the rain is splendid. A stream of consciousness play never looked so good.

LEA MURILLO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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