By Naomi Wallace
Directed by Jonathan Berry
Produced by Eclipse Theatre Company
At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago
Haunting coming of age story depicts the depths of the Great Depression
Naomi Wallace’s lyrical, almost poetic, dialogue captures the bewilderment of the hard times of 1936 rural America at the height of the Great Depression in her The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek. Wallace uses flashbacks to tell her two level story. We meet two teenagers devoid of hope for their future who find solace and purpose in the potential exciting challenge of running a trestle before an oncoming locomotive enters the bridge. Dalton (Matt Farabee in a tour de force performance) is the sexually curious 15 year old who is enchanted by the 17 year old ‘tom-boy’ Pace (the engaging Marissa Cowell) – who entices the shy Dalton to become adventurous and join her in preparing to run the trestle in defiance of the oncoming train. The two teens are playing out their repressed emotional and sexual desires through preparing for the daredevil stunt. Farabee and Cowsill develop subtle and nuanced stage chemistry. The Trestle is part rural legend and part parable as it depicts the haunting misery of poor folks caught in the troubled economic time of the 1930’s. Pace, ever the strong-willed girl, orders, cajoles and entices Dalton into sexual rituals that include a most sensual not-touching, only talk, sex scene (think Bent). His confusion leads him to feel guilt and responsibility for Pace’s tragic demise. Playwright Wallace moves back and forth in time to tell her two level story. Her character’s fears and frustrations both mobilizes some while freezing others into atrophy.
The other storyline covers Dalton’s broken family that finds the mother, Gin (Cindy Marker) becoming a social/political defiant determined to fight for better work/living conditions while her unemployed husband, Dray (Kevin Scott) feels ashamed and worthless since his self-worth is tied to what he does for a living. Dray sits around his house making shadow puppets with his hands. He disdains being touched by anyone. Gin and Dray communicate while tossing dishes back-and-forth. Dray’s stifled ambitions paralyzes him into a hermit as it also makes him feel unworthy of physical intimacy. Kevin Scott is most effective here.
Chas (Sean Bolger), the janitor/jailor, tries reason and humor to get Dalton to speak in his own defense against the accusations of murder facing the teen after Pace’s folly. Bolger nimbly blends humorous animal imitations and smart common sense talk to reach Dalton.
Naomi Wallace’s The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek is a passionate look at repressed anger, frustration, and sexual appetites that come from boredom and lack of hope that permeates the poor in rural Depression Era America. Wallace’s play has a unique flourish and a lyrical sophistication that dramatizes the struggles by folks to change lives that bear down upon them. This is a hauntingly powerful look at repressed emotions and spoiled hopes. The Eclipse Theatre Company’s production is well staged by Jonathan Berry and well acted. It is a “must see” summer treat. Naomi Wallace is a major playwright with an incomparable voice and a poet’s touch.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: July 24, 2011
At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-404-7336, www.eclipsetheatre.com, Tickets $28, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm, sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through September 4, 2011