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    Trestle at Pope Lick Creek Plays Powerfully

    Last week, the Stony Brook University Department of Theater Arts presented ‘The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek,’ first in a series of two of Long Island Play Projects. Written by Naomi Wallace and directed by Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, the play explored the saga of two teenagers, Dalton Chance (played by Dan De Jesus) and Pace Creagan (Kaitlin Burke) who find an escape from an era of depression by running to survive against a 150-ton train.

    Performed in a black box theater, the darkness enshrouded by the space was felt by the audience because of the expert blackouts, cross-fades and other dimming cues by designer, Jeanette Yew. It managed to heighten the sense of darkness brought on by poverty in the depression year of 1936. The venue was intimate and the action took place before the audience, as well as above them as Pace faced the train in end.

    The play began with Dalton making puppet shadows from a lamp hearing the ghost of Pace, who is already dead. It ended with Dalton and Pace in an erotic scene that brought the play to a full circle. In between, it switched between the past and the present non-linearly, increasing the suspense in a climactic fashion.

    It was evident pretty early that Pace and Dalton were trying to escape the suffocating older generation made up of Chas Weaver (Robert Shilling), the town jailer whose son died at the trestle while playing the same game.

    Other characters included Dalton’s parents – Dray (Brian Avery), who broke dishes to take out his frustration after being unemployed and Gin (Knilo Soleil), who fought fiercely for the survival of her family.

    Although the pace was somewhat slow with the play lasting nearly two hours, it felt necessary for the fragmented plotline, which was delivered with the least bit of confusion. The mix of chronology also kept the audience guessing by keeping the conclusion till the very end.

    Costume designer, Peggy Morin’s sepia-toned and faded-denim ripped and soiled costumes were reminiscent of the 1930s and worked well with the minimalist set design by Shaun Fillion. The set consisted of a trestle with rocks to represent a dry creek on the right of the stage, serving the dual purpose of the jail cell, and two chairs and a table on the left to represent Dalton’s home.

    Minute attention was paid to every detail from the nice shoes of those who are employed (Chas and Gin) to the hole in Dalton’s socks. The sound of the train whistle coming from afar evoked an atmosphere of the perfect blend of edge. The effect of echoing as Dalton chased Pace saying ‘I’m going to get you this time’ repeatedly also worked well. The only instance where the sound seemed overwhelming and too melodramatic was the scene where Pace faced the train.

    All of the characters performed the scenes with clarity and great pitch. Although most actors had neutral accents, Shilling, who played Chas, switched accents in between, chopping words (makin’ instead of making) in the first jail scene. He then enunciated them in later scenes, where he clearly shined with humor and bravado, especially with the ‘apple’ song. Avery, who played Dray, performed with too much restraint at some points, occasionally seeming to be stuck in the character of Duke Senior, which he played in ‘As You Like It.’

    Gin, on the other hand, didn’t have enough restraint, especially when she screamed Dalton’s name a little too dramatically, although this worked to the advantage of the passionate nature of her character. But the real star of the night was Burke as Pace, who managed to capture the youth, the boldness and the charisma of her character. De Jesus complemented her effectively, although it was clear that he was not the protagonist from the start.

    Overall, the reception of Trestle was probably better received than other Dept. of Theater Arts’ plays, partly because it was more relatable than the past Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde productions and partly because in itself it was an entertaining, yet educational play.

    Trestle managed to capture the failure of America in providing its youth with a hopeful future in a testy time and place. More importantly though, it was able to translate generational conflicts and the capitalism’s exploitation of labor to an audience that was predominantly young. Like me, the audience left the play disquieted, pondering greater reflection as was evident in the seemingly never-ending ovation.

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