Former Theater de la Jeune Lune duo mounts new show

Epp and Serrand
Steven Epp and Dominique Serrand during rehearsals for "The House Can't Stand" at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. They say this is the first of what will be a series of new works from their as-yet-unnamed company.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

A year after the collapse of Theater de la Jeune Lune, two of that company's central figures are returning together to a Twin Cities stage this week.

Steven Epp and Dominique Serrand are mounting a show called "The House Can't Stand." It's a bittersweet experience for the performers. Steve Epp wrote and stars in "The House Can't stand." And he wears a dress.

"It's a one-woman show," Epp said.

It's a story of a middle-aged woman from the Midwest, who just lost her husband. Her children are gone. She is philosophical about her worries, and her frustrations.

"I don't know," she says in the play, "Because you see, thoughts of things that are good get mixed up with other thoughts, thoughts that aren't good. Bad thoughts. Mean, ugly, vicious, angry, inhuman thoughts. Thoughts we aren't supposed to have. But do. If we are honest. Really."

The character is a product of her environment. At times she's sad, at others strangely wise, and often very funny.

Epp wears a costume for the show, but doesn't change his voice. He said the absurdist nature of the situation allows him a great deal of freedom.

'The House Can't Stand'
Poster for "The House Can't Stand."
Image courtesy Dominique Serrand

"By taking a character that is so far away from yourself, I think it creates a dynamic that -- it doesn't work in film, but that's what theater can do," Epp said. "You can go to those characters that are so far from yourself, and if you get under it and at it in the right way the audience will go with you."

The play is designed and directed by Dominique Serrand. He said Epp's character must decide what to do with her life.

"She travels, but not only just geographically, she travels through the history of her life, and her parents and grandparents," Serrand said.

She learns of her family's history, and its political evolution. She also visits places where things aren't going so well, like a shanty town she desperately wants to clean up.

"Just feng shui the hell out of it," she says. "There are fires smoldering in corroding barrels, surrounded by filthy huddled masses of humanity. I mean there is not a 401k, HMO or single payer with no deductible as far are the eye can see."

"The House Can't Stand" is very simple compared with many of the shows Epp and Serrand did with Theater de la Jeune Lune. Despite winning national acclaim for its innovative work, Jeune Lune closed in July 2008 in the face of mounting debts.

"It was in the books. It was written there would be an end."

The normally loquacious Serrand is unnaturally quiet when asked about what happened.

"It's very tormenting to me," he said.

Serrand said he feels the community gave them the Jeune Lune building, and it is now gone. He said he feels responsible, although not to blame. The problem, he said, was they were unable to create an endowment which could float them through hard times.

"So we saw our death coming from a long way," Serrand said. "It was not like mismanagement overnight. It was in the books. It was written there would be an end."

The months since have been tough, not least because after decades of regular performances, Epp has only done a couple of shows, and Serrand none at all. The sour economy hasn't helped.

So that's why Epp and Serrand have formed this new, as yet unnamed company, and financed "The House Can't stand" out of their own pockets.

The marquee at the Southern. Epp and Serrand have not picked a name for their new company, but say they hope something will arise out of the current show.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"We also have nothing to lose right now, because we pretty much lost everything," Epp said. "So there's a certain freedom in that, of saying well, we'll just try what we can."

The sense of freedom Epp feels might explain the absurdist character in "The House Can't Stand." She originally appeared in a Jeune Lune production years ago, and Epp and Serrand always wanted to develop her.

The show runs at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, Wednesday through Sunday. If things go as they hope, they will be able to mount the show elsewhere.

Epp and Serrand say they will take another play they have developed to the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky., early next year.

Serrand said he and Epp will keep creating in the Twin Cities, but he expects they will travel.

"We'll do the work," he said. "We'll see who wants to present it."

And that will decide how often they will perform in their home town.

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