Photos by Elisabeth Ross
|Brad Quinn as Chas and Logan Natvig as Dalton.|
The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek is Naomi Wallace's Depression-era tale of two teens and their struggle to assert some sort of identity in a hopeless world. At the same time, it explores the effects of economic downturn on the older characters. Dreamwell's production, directed by Chuck Dufano, opened at the Universalist Unitarian Society this weekend.
As the plot, which is somewhat nonlinear, develops, we learn that Dalton (Logan Natvig) is accused of killing Pace (Adeara-Jean Maurice). We learn that Chas (Brad Quinn), Dalton's jailer, had a son who had been captivated -- and killed -- by Pace's obsessions with the train that crosses the trestle at Pope Lick Creek. Pace was training Dalton to run the train. She was also teaching him about love, and how being human means coming to terms with the urgent need to see and be seen by others. As Pace's bizarre story unfolds, Dalton opens up about her philosophy that shattered his world, and how he can never be put back together the same way again.
It's a play of shadows and mirrors, and the story of Dalton's parents, Gin (Meg Dobbs) and Dray (Steven Polchert) mirrors his own. They were once teenagers in love in the same dead-end town, with the same desperation to overcome inertia and become something completely different. But Dray has been laid off and Gin will be any day now, and they're turning out to be nothing but empty. Gin wants to save their relationship, but Dray is completely broken. The subplot showcases Wallace's unabashedly socialist politics and, at the same time, gives us an idea of where Dalton and Pace might have gone.
Trestle's actors are energetic and committed, but the direction seems to lack nuance. Wallace's writing is evocative and expressionistic, and there are phrases and images that a director (and actors) needs to let linger. Often -- especially in the earlier scenes -- the company barrels through important moments, neglecting to let the rhythm or the play speak for itself, sometimes even ignoring the punctuation. Often an actor will ignore the actions of another and move right onto the next line without acknowledging his/her scene partner, or simply fail to speak from the heart. The result turns what is written as something of a Pinteresque odyssey of alienated youth into a much more predictable, naturalistic piece that has a fraction of the potential agony and beauty. This is not to say that the production has no redeeming moments, but the first half of Trestle feels like a train rushing quickly off of its tracks, only occasionally rattling back on.
|Steven Polchert as Dray and Meg Dobbs as Gin.|
The acting is solid, though at times it seems it could use some stronger direction. Polchert in particular is very striking; his physical presentation of Dray is dark and imposing without overdoing it. Though Dray is a withdrawn character at first, Polchert makes an effort to connect with the other actors, and he seems to be the most comfortable with the rhythm of the language. Quinn is intriguing as Chas, especially when he makes strange shapes with his body to mock the other prisoners. His use of language (he does most of the talking in his scenes with the stoic Dalton) is layered, though he does tend to get off on yelling jags and miss some of the subtler ironies of the text. Dobbs has a real presence as Gin, and is a responsive scene partner, but there seems to be a fire missing from her performance. One wants to see flashes of the unique, bold girl Gin once was -- as she describes herself to Dalton and Dray -- on stage in front of us. As is, Maurice's performance of Pace gives us more insight into Gin's past than Dobbs' scenes.
|Adeara-Jean Maurice as Pace and|
Logan Natvig as Dalton.
Natvig is a bit more comfortable in his skin, perhaps because his character is a bit more down-to-earth and less expressionistic than the others. After all, it's Dalton who is the ingenue in Wallace's dark world of small-town desperation, and the only one who, once awakened to it, hasn't resigned himself to it in some way. His quiet, cautious poise and his believable reactions to the others tell Dalton's story quite clearly, and on his own and with Quinn, he's excellent. But whether it's the direction or the age discrepancy, the Pace/Dalton scenes lack that Naomi Wallace quality of surreal sexuality, and the play as a whole suffers for it.
Though this production is a bit uneven, Trestle is a very bold script and it's exciting that Dreamwell's doing it. This reviewer was a bit disenchanted with some of the stylistic choices, but I encourage you to see for yourself if the production holds up, especially if you've never treated yourself to a Naomi Wallace play before. The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek plays again tonight (February 9) and February 15-16 at the Unitarian Universalist Society at 10 South Gilbert St in Iowa City. More information here.