A Higher Plane

Two plays use high moral oratory as a vehicle for drama


Trains, not planes, are the operating metaphor of Naomi Wallace's Depression-era expressionist drama, The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, which is now getting its area premiere under the auspices of Frank Theatre and director Wendy Knox. Yet the metaphorical implications are equally transparent: An airplane, with its giddy disregard for gravity, is the vehicle of optimists. The freight train, an inexorable industrial force, promises nothing. That may be what draws Wallace's protagonists, Dalton Chance (André Samples) and Pace Creagan (Lisa Belfiori), into an ill-fated game of chicken with a speeding locomotive. These are children for whom the American social contract is a hollow promise; oblivion, at least, is a certainty.

Dalton and Pace would seem to represent the disaffection of American youth commonly attributed to them by American adults. The play flashes forward to the aftermath of the game, where Dalton is languishing in a prison cell for Pace's murder. A vaguely malevolent jailer (Tom Sherohman) baits him by saying "Kids: just want to eat, fuck, and tear the ornaments off the tree." Dalton's father (Mark Rhein), meanwhile, sits in a postindustrial gloom and makes hand shadows on the wall. He evinces Clifford Odets's sentiment that if you give a homeless man a job, you give him a home; if you take a working man's job, you leave him to drown.

Blood on the tracks: Dalton Chance (André Samples) and Pace Creagan (Lisa Belfiori) inThe Trestle at Pope Lick Creek
Blood on the tracks: Dalton Chance (André Samples) and Pace Creagan (Lisa Belfiori) inThe Trestle at Pope Lick Creek

Good intentions aside, Trestle does not bear the weight of its ideas. Wallace's characters don't speak; they give speeches. And every action--from Dalton's parents' habit of tossing plates around, to the hand shadows, to Pace and Dalton's psychosexual game--becomes a Big Symbol. This leaves Frank's cast--and especially Samples as Dalton--struggling to break through a flood of prose purple enough to have come out of a Tennessee Williams melodrama. In a story that cries for a naturalistic treatment, Knox and company are unable to ground Wallace's high-flown rhetoric in anything concrete. As a result, instead of being dared to reconsider the rot of capitalism, we're left feeling run over by the author's moral certitude.

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