Smile Politely

Trestle steams on through at the Station Theatre

Naomi Wallace’s 2000 play The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek is currently playing at the Station Theatre, with direction by up and coming director Saskia Bakker. Bakker is an Urbana native who recently completed her first year studying theatre direction at Depaul University in Chicago. 

High atop a railroad trestle that spans a bone dry creek, two teenagers plan to race across the bridge against an oncoming locomotive. At first their scheme adds excitement to life in a small factory town during the Great Depression, then sensual experience awakens dangerous passions in an era of stifled ambitions. With theatrical flourish and lyrical finesse, Naomi Wallace delves into a world where people struggle to change lives.

Wallace’s play strings together episodes focused on Dalton Chance, portrayed by Gabriel Halstead-Alvarez, and Pace Creegan, played by Katarina Blakeslee. Their interactions can be described as a twisted game where tomboy Pace is both cat and mouse. Dalton is the cheese. Katarina Blakeslee’s portrayal of Pace Creegan is cool and intimidating. Halsstead-Alvarez’s Dalton Chance is full of youth and damage.

Kevin Wickart delivered as the jailer, Chas. After losing his son, he substitute fathers inmates such Dalton. Wickart’s Chas provided some needed comedic relief while his outbursts of frustrations reminded the audience of the danger and power he holds.

Christine des Garennes plays Gin Chance, Dalton’s mother. With her husband out of work, desperate Gin has picked up a job that proves hazardous to her health while trying to keep the family afloat. Her marriage to Dray (David Heckman) is loveless, and she begs her husband to show her physical affection.

After losing his job and failing to find work amidst the Great Depression, Dray has been emasculated and minimized. Instead of manual labor, Dray uses his muscular arms to make fragile shadow puppets by candlelight. His shadows appear on a tattered American flag, symbolizing that the American dream is but a mere figment. Heckman’s Dray is tragic, but hard to find sympathy for due to his physical threats against Gin.

Despite the play’s timeframe being the Great Depression era, Naomi Wallace’s character names remind me a bit of 1990s teen drama TV. Dalton Chance and Pace Creegan sound like two characters from an off-brand Dawson’s Creek. Normally this wouldn’t have stood out to me, but the characters tend to use each other’s full names frequently in conversation.

In terms of play content, there is no better venue in town than the Station Theatre to produce a show about a trestle, or train bridge. The train track next to the Station is still in commission and it is exhilarating when a train passes by during live performances. Like the characters in The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek allude, you can feel the train throughout your whole body. If a train were to pass by during the run of the show, I can imagine some serendipitous moments occuring.

Bakker stages the piece in “the alley,” with audience on two sides and the action in the middle. If you saw Fun Home at the Station during the 46th Season, you’d be familiar with this set up. Bakker’s direction is crisp. Through physical levels, she establishes the power dynamics within the play’s episodes. She uses one side of the playing space to serve as the home, and the other as the jail. While characters are often confined in their respective spaces, Pace roams freely all about the stage, representing her ever present omnipotence.

The set of the Station Theatre’s second production of the summer season was minimal and featured two distressed supports for a trestle on the east and west walls of the theatre. Intriguing little beams of light kept dancing around the room during the show. Looking up, my heart dropped as I saw glass shards suspended from the ceiling admist glowing candles. The beams kept reappearing throughout the play, reminiscent of a train light arising in the distance. Edgy acoustic folk music played furing intermission, but could have added an aural element to the world of the play during scene transitions.

Audiences should know that The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek does run on the long side. Due to the play’s episodic nature, it’s difficult for the audience to foresee where the act break and end of the play lies. Regardless, this show makes for a thought-provoking night of youthful, fringe theatre.

The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek
The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre
223 N. Broadway Ave, Urbana
July 5th through 20th at 7:30 pm, July 14th at 3:00 pm

Get tickets online here

Photos by Jesse Folks

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