The Moving Company plays with fire

Fairy tales and physicality drum up the actor-driven parade of “Out of the Pan Into the Fire.”

Steve Epp and Nathan Keepers rehearse for

Chelsea Gortmaker

Steve Epp and Nathan Keepers rehearse for “Out of the Pan Into the Fire” at the Southern Theater on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. The show runs May 3 – 26.

Joe Kellen

What: “Out of the Pan Into the Fire”

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays, Friday through May 26

Where: The Southern Theater, 1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: $20 students and ages 25 and under, $28 everyone else

On the second level of Joyce United Methodist church, a plastic-wrapped head slowly rose out of a bowl of soup.

“Magic,” said Steve Epp, actor and co-founder of The Moving Company, watching fellow cast member Sam Kruger work a moment in a scene with director Dominique Serrand.

Magic is essentially what The Moving Company is going for in its production of the new play “Out of the Pan Into the Fire.” Heads popping out of broth or wrathful German women casting spells are nothing out of the ordinary to the ensemble.

“We’ve tried to walk this fine line where everything remains like a fairy tale — it’s all sort of impossible, and yet it’s all very real at the same time,” Epp said.

Theatre de la Jeune Lune alumni Epp, Serrand and actor Nathan Keepers wrote “Out of the Pan Into the Fire.” The group catered the writing to their current fascination with the mystique of the fairy tale universe.

“Fairy tales are a proposition into a world, and once that proposition is made you kind of accept what’s happening,” Epp said. “As opposed to other narratives where you question it and are almost asked to question it, fairy tales are an invitation.”

The high-energy comedy concerns the journeys and misadventures of two orphans named Thirteen and Elsie, played by Keepers and Christina Baldwin. Their old and somewhat mysterious caretaker, Angelo (Epp), who is described as “sort of an angel” with a deceptive edge, illuminating to the audience that as playful as it is, the world these characters live in possesses harsh brutality.

This balance between the hilarity and darkness of fairy tales paints a world that isn’t dissimilar from our own, Epp said.

“Most characters in fairy tales are dispossessed, they’ve been ripped off or they’ve lost everything. We’ve lived through that,” he said. “It feels like without it being about that loss specifically, it’s something that our country has really gone through. We wanted to explore the meanness and brutality that’s behind all that.”

Each member of the cast, save for Kruger, was an active member of the now-defunct Tony Award-winning company Theatre de la Jeune Lune, which means that they created this world Epp talks about from a process that focuses on the acting.

Primarily using a style called Commedia dell’arte, an age-old theater tradition that originated in 16th century Italy dealing with huge-scale physical comedy, the company developed their characters with movement, stock characters from the Commedia canon and organized play.

“You can’t create a character from its brain. We don’t function that way as human beings. If you don’t know how they walk, sit, eat — you don’t know who they are,” Keepers said.

It’s clear that the majority of the group has been working together for more than 10 years — their process happens organically and without an excess of premeditation, Keepers said.

“We know that we’re gonna be physical. That’s what we do, and that’s what the work does. We move, literally, really well together,” he said.

Perhaps that’s why the tight-knit collective of The Moving Company has stayed together through their time at Jeune Lune to now. Epp says that their kindred spirit is resonant in each play they create.

“There’s a great trust. You know you’re gonna be supported in the room and you have that complicity with the other actors,” he said. “It allows us to go at it with a sense of play.”