The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek is a difficult play. Difficult to stage, difficult to act, and difficult to direct. Yet most problematic of all is that it is difficult to watch. Naomi Wallace is an uncompromising playwright, making few, if any, concessions to an inattentive audience and Trestle delivers this most notably in its non-chronological sequencing. Wallace never writes for the sort of passive disposition we might bring to the cinema screen. She provokes, challenges and forces us to confront that which we’d rather not see. A tricky prospect for any director and I commend Marchella Ward for having the bravery to take on one of her pieces.
The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek is set in an anywhere-town in America during the Great Depression. Pace Creagan and Dalton Chance are teenagers with no prospects and no hope of escaping their dead-end town. Suffocated by small-town mentality, the only thrill they can find is in risking their lives by running the trestle in front of the train that roars periodically through the town. A hundred feet above a dry creek and with no safety sides, the train has already claimed the life of one small-town resident. Equally frustrated are Dalton’s parents, Gin and Dray, through whom we witness the way in which the external force of the economy cripples an internal life of intimacy.
Burgeoning sexuality and repressed emotion are vital to the tone of the play and the actors that I watched in last week’s press preview do justice to Wallace’s powerful writing – with each actor in this five-man cast committing wholeheartedly to the task of representing these characters upon the stage. Ellie Rigg as Pace Creagan is particularly good, bringing a danger and magnetism to her sneering portrayal. The script plays around with gender roles and Rigg’s performance manages to hint at a feminine vulnerability beneath a façade of masculine hardness.
How Ward’s production will conjure up Depression-era America remains to be seen. The simple staging of the play however – the whole stage containing prison cell, train tracks and Dalton’s home simultaneously within one space – powerfully speaks of the limitations of Dalton’s environment. Whilst the director deliberately spurned a specific accent to preserve the sense that this could have been anywhere in America, I would have preferred a more homogeneous approach – there are some moments when I hear a strong Irish lilt amongst broadly American tones. Playing at the Keble O’Reilly theatre, from Weds The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek will challenge and educate and is a testament to the continuing power of Wallace’s writing.