Bailey Story & Annie Bulleit in The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek. Photo: Martin French
The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek
By Naomi Wallace
Directed by Martin French
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
So many love stories are about the power of love and our desire for a happy ending. Still, the reality is that such relationships are often mystifying and quixotic. When subject to dark and desperate times, such as serious economic depression (or a global pandemic?) they may lead to tragedy.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, fifteen-year-old Dalton Chance (Bailey Story) spends his days infatuated with Pace Creagan (Annie Bulleit), an older, charismatic girl who pushes Dalton to follow her in a reckless obsession to run the trestle that spans the dried-up Pope Lick Creek. Their relationship is a curious thing to witness, filled with odd interactions of longing and desire that leave us uncertain of what they mean to each other.
Meanwhile, Dalton’s parents, Gin (Carol Jacqueline) and Dray (Chris Petty) have grown distant since Dray has been unable to find work, barely able to talk to one another much less touch, leaving their relationship a bookend of sorts to Dalton and Pace.
It quickly becomes clear that Dalton is in jail for murder, taunted, and harassed by his jailer Chas (Marc McHone), who has his own story, and while we will learn the details of the incident before the curtain falls, the idea that most of the play is told in flashback allows for many intriguing possibilities in our perception. Memory plays always afford these kind of opportunities for fluid and heightened realities in storytelling, and we find ourselves immediately questioning our own understanding of the narrative.
Martin French directs this well cast production with a full appreciation for playwright Naomi Wallace’s exquisitly crafted language. It can be frustrating at first, patiently waiting to catch on to the enigmatic speech and tone of the piece, so assiduously does it sidestep every available cliche. His pace is deliberate, never rushed, and the writing demands it because we can never be certain where this journey wil lead.
The cast delivers much of the dialouge in nearly hushed tones, which is all the more remarkable because the challenging acoustics of the near cavernous Carbon Copy space, but French has enclosed the staging in curtains and the actors have found the exact pocket of projection to get the extremely intimate moments across. The high ceiling and steel girders above were also a subtle reference when Dalton and Pace look up at the titular trestle.
Bailey Story is close to perfect as Dalton, a soulful presence expressing an indecipherable pain and emptiness, while Annie Bulleit’s Pace is beautiful in precisely the way necessary to make sense of Dalton’s fascination but also a mercurial personality whose pleasure in pushing Dalton is a fine balance of latent eroticism and intellectual cruelty. Both characters are founded on archetypes but both Story and Bulliet explore all of the strange nuance at work in the relationship.
Chris Petty’s Dray begins as a silent, lumbering figure dragging more weight than a fairer world would allow. Eventually he talks at length (this is a talky play), articulating the character’s inner life but never shedding the physical expression of that burden.
As Gin, Carol Jacqueline conveys the mother as the glue holding the family together, the most grounded character in the play, the only one who can formulate a practical, real world plan for the family’s future, and the only one lacking any malice or bitterness.
The jailer, Chas, could easily be underestimated as just a plot device, except Wallace gives him much more and Marc McHone expertly fleshes him out. He represents the larger community beyond the isolation of the Chance family.
Louisville residents will recognize the name “Pope Lick” from the trestle in southeastern Jefferson County that, according to legend, is the home of the “Sheepman”, and which has experienced its share of tragic deaths when people challenge themselves to cross the trestle. Wallace may enjoy that resonant connection but there is no Pope Lick monster manifested onstage, although it does seem as if Wallace’s trestle holds a mystical power, and perhaps she is writing about a different kind of monster; the elusive, dark side of human nature that wants to confront the unknown with action. Will running across the trestle destroy your fear of it, or will it release the unknown darkness of your own soul and destroy what you love the most?
Take note that Carbon Copy is not an air-conditioned space. I recommend light clothing and a good hand fan. But do not let that dissuade you from seeing this fine production.
The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek
May 12, 13, & 14 @ 7:30 pm
For tickets click HERE
1212 South 4th Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.