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COURTESY OF NICHOLAS FESETTE

March 16, 2017

The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek Shines at Schwartz

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The Department of Performing and Media Arts’ production of The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek explored complex personal relationships and the impact of the Great Depression on American families, serious themes which the cast of five was well equipped to handle. Led by Director Nick Fesette and Assistant Director Chisom Awachie ’17, the play is gripping, dark and surprisingly sexual.

The play opens on Dalton Chase (Jack Press ’18), a 15-year-old boy, sitting in a room by himself and making shadow puppets, yelling at 17-year-old Pace Creagan (Elise Czuchna ’18) to go to hell. Shortly after, we see the two hanging out under a trestle bridge, waiting to watch the 7:10 train that Pace is committed to outrun. Pace, a typical tomboy, is unquestionably a bad influence, encouraging Dalton to try to outrun the train with her even though her friend Brett died doing the exact same thing, and meek Dalton is almost incapable of standing up to her. The play is presented in a dreamlike way where the dead appear in the present and the time is nonlinear. We soon discover that the room we saw Dalton in at the beginning is the jail cell where he’s been held since he confessed to killing Pace, although we later learn that he simply feels responsible for the fact that she was unable to outrun the train in the end.

As their friendship develops, it becomes clear that this is not an ordinary friendship, but it does not develop into a typical romantic or sexual relationship either. There is evidently some form of mutual attraction, but Pace refuses to kiss Dalton despite ordering him to undress. While their relationship is unhealthy and convoluted, it offers both teens the chance to ignore the fact that they are poor and will likely not be able to go to college or move away. Though incredibly dangerous and potentially self-destructive, outrunning the train is a goal to work towards, most importantly one that does not require any money. Dalton’s parents, Gin (Elana Valastro ’17) and Dray (Irving Torres ’18), have no such escape since Dray lost his job and only Gin is working. Gin tries to be a loving wife and mother as well as the only breadwinner, but her relationship with Dray is tense and rather cold; he seems to have been depressed since getting laid off, if not for longer. He refuses to touch his wife or his son for fear of hurting them, and breaks plates in order to channel his frustration with his inability to find something to do.

The play flashes back and forth between scenes in the trestle, in the Chance household, and in Dalton’s jail cell. His jailer, Chas (Sam Morrison ’17), is his only companion there, but spends most of his time taunting Dalton and suggesting that he will be hanged for his crime. Chas’s behavior suggests that he is disturbed and has not recovered since the death of his son Brett, the boy who died trying to outrun the train with Pace. He refuses to leave Dalton in peace and constantly asks Dalton, “What’s this?” before imitating anything from an airplane to Dalton’s soul, and the game grows increasingly more disturbing.

Most of the production revolves around dark and serious themes, but there are more lighthearted moments when Pace comes over for dinner at Dalton’s house and offers his mother Gin a beam engine that she made in science class, or when Gin and Dray reminisce about the beginning of their relationship. Dray also attempts to reconcile with his son by bringing Dalton’s old pillow to his jail cell and eventually teaching him to make shadow puppets. However, the play is dominated by highly emotional scenes, including several surrounding Pace’s death and another in which Dray appears ready to commit suicide, and none of the problems in the characters’ relationships are ever truly resolved. Hopelessness is a major theme of the play, which opens and closes on Dalton’s jail cell.

Though overall entertaining, the play is at times a little bizarre and melodramatic, but all five members of the cast delivered strong and striking performances that still made it very much worth watching. The tension in all the relationships is well developed, and Torres’ portrayal of Dray’s depression is extremely convincing. A scene towards the end in which Pace and Dalton claim that by touching themselves, they are touching each other, is of course rather strange and uncomfortable, but this unconventional sex scene was handled as tastefully as possible and made surprisingly emotional by Press and Czuchna’s acting.

The play’s use of non-linear time and its huge range of emotions make it difficult to perform, making the cast’s impeccable performances even more impressive. Trestle itself is well-written but very unusual and would not likely have been so entertaining were it not for these five student actors and their wonderful portrayals of these complex characters.

Sam Morrison ’17 performed in The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek and is a Sun Arts and Entertainment staff writer. He had no input in the writing or editing of this review. 

 

Emily Fournier is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at efournier@cornellsun.com.