Deep and dark ‘Trestle’ shocks

“The doctors say she died a virgin,” the prison janitor told Dalton, who lay entranced on a bench in his cell. “You missed the target and came all over her dress.”

This was just one of the many shocking dialogues that pervades Emily Lodish’s ’03 senior project, “Trestle at Pope Lick Creek.” Set in the 1930s, this gripping play by Naomi Wallace is performed beautifully by just five actors in front of a simple setting of white drapery and wooden planks. Directed by Katie Robbins ’02, “Trestle” comes across at first as an unsuspecting coming-of-age tale starring innocent 15-year-old Dalton Chance (Matt Kirsch ’04) and a 17-year-old tomboy named Pace Creagan (Lodish). But the storyline quickly picks up momentum and goes on to touch upon a number of social issues including child abuse, identity crisis, mental illness and suicide.

The action darts back and forth from playful interaction between the two teenagers to scenes of Dalton’s later imprisonment on suspicion of murder. Every so often, there are interjectory scenes with Dalton’s parents, whose relationship is ripping at the seams as a result of the stresses of their position as a Depression-era working class family, as well as the deteriorating psychological state of Dalton’s father, Dray (Max Ventilla ’02 SOM ’05). Dalton’s mother, Gin (Erin Beirnard ’03), is forced to take on a job under dangerous conditions — both of her hands are literally turned blue from a factory chemical.

“We have the hands of dead women,” Gin tells Dray.

Over and over again, the audience is reminded of the train at the trestle as a metaphor for life. Pace draws a striking analogy between working class life and a potato being stuck in a box.

“The potato thinks the darkness is dirt, so it grows roots. But all it’s doing is sucking air.” The idea of entrapment — of trains always taking people away and never bringing them back, of wanting to go somewhere but not being able to — is a constant theme of the play.

And then there is the theme of hopelessness. Chas Weaver (Ben Evans ’05), the prison janitor, laments over the suicide of his son, Brett, who had a “hole in his heart” that Weaver was not able to fill. Brett was waiting for his father to give him something but all Weaver had to give was physical abuse. Filled with regret, Weaver presents an account of how he used to beat Brett every morning at the breakfast table in Pace’s presence, until eventually, Brett began to hit himself. But as bad as Weaver’s situation is, he is doing much better than Dray Chance.

“I don’t belong to my life anymore,” Chance confesses. He confines himself to his home after he has been laid off, making shadows with his hands against the candlelit walls. Interestingly, Dalton engages in the same activity, as seen in the prologue of the play; both are caught in the cyclical world of working class life and neither is able to break free from it.

Identity is another recurring source of crisis for the characters of “Trestle.” Dray tells Gin, “I’m going to close my eyes so that no one will be able to see us”; Gin says that the only time she has been sure of who she was was when she was wrong. Pace tells Dalton that she needs to be watched in order to know that she exists. The identity focus reaches its climax in the very last scene of the play, which is more than scandalous; it’s X-rated.

Don’t be put off by its bizarre title. A sensational plot and captivating performances make “Trestle at Pope Lick Creek” a play worth catching this weekend.

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