Although the topic of the Great Depression isn’t one most would normally find entertaining on a Thursday night, or any night for that matter, Theatre UCSB’s production of “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek” brings this era to a new light filled with suspense, hope and shameless humor.
The play, written by Naomi Wallace and directed by UCSB graduate student Kate Yust Al-Shamma, revolves around five characters plagued by the pains of waiting for change to occur in their lives. Each character experiences the burden of the depression, as they are jobless, poor and hungry. Yet each character also carries deeply personal yearnings that pull from within themselves and from their families.
Dalton Chance, played by Freddy Gaytan, is a teenage boy fighting to escape the troubles at home caused by the depression. His father, played by David Guerra, has been emotionally wrung by the trying times and, as a result, has disconnected himself from both his family and society as a whole. In an effort to grasp onto any strength, Dalton develops a friendship with Pace Creagan, an older, strong-willed girl played by Tovah Suttle. The play’s scenes narrate the blossoming of this lively relationship and contrast with the bleakness Dalton encounters at home. Soon, it becomes obvious how important his and Pace’s friendship is in merely retaining sanity.
When Pace’s character is introduced, she carries an infatuation with the trains that run over the trestle at Pope Lick Creek. As the story unfolds, one realizes there is something more that is hidden behind her motivation to race them. After being pressed about an old friend’s death on the tracks, Pace finally unveils a startling confession.
The exceptional talent of the cast is a definite check on the list of reasons as to why this play works. One couldn’t help but be emotionally entangled in each character’s struggles, even considering Artsweek had met several of the actors beforehand. Their skills range from turtle impressions to scenes of rage and utter frustration to gut-wrenching orgasms. Though acting abilities fringe on spectacle at times, the characterizations are vivid and well rounded.
The set design consists of the trestle, Dalton’s home, and a jail cell with wood placed to designate the boundaries of each scene. It is at first difficult to differentiate between the locations, though creative uses of lighting in both colors and shapes alleviate initial confusion. Mesh netting behind the trees and in the background adds ethereal effects to one character so much so that it appears as an optical illusion.
Among each relationship there is a level of suspense that continually keeps the audience on the edge of its seat. Questions arise so that one’s mind is reeling while trying to still follow the drama. Will the father finally crack? Will the mother give up? Will Dalton and Pace finally race the train? If so, will another person fall victim to death? During intermission, Artsweek was hardly able to stand the wait to find out where this winding tale would lead. The characters slowly creep closer to discovering their fate and the viewer, as well, is left nail biting in anticipation.