A story of murder, adolescence

The only way to love someone is to kill them. Sonoma State University’s theatre arts and dance department’s first performance of the fall season, “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek,” explores and exploits the themes of love and death, leaving audience members equally inspired and shocked.

Students brought original playwright Naomi Wallace’s work to life on stage in Ives 76. The small cast of five students took on different roles to represent a small town outside of Louisville, Kentucky in the troubling year of 1936.

Pace Creagan (Lyla Elmassian) and Dalton Chance (Ian Webb) are two teenagers infatuated with playing a game of chicken with the train on an old trestle bridge. The gathering spot at the trestle, although it starts seemingly innocent, turns into a place where the two adolescents will explore and expand ideas outside of the social norm.

Pace fills Dalton’s ears with the realities of life, including their place on the social ladder as well as their situation in the middle of a nation-wide financial crisis. Dalton is intrigued by Pace, who doesn’t look, walk or talk like any of the other girls in school. Later in the play, he seems to become even more enticed by the way she gets under his skin without even laying a finger on him.

While Wallace places some focus on the developing love story between the two, the writer is more concerned with challenging the status quo. The erotic and elusive encounters between the lead actors are very much like the writing found in Steven Sater’s “Spring Awakening,” which explores the adventurous attitude toward sex that was changing during this time in history. As the norms in society were collapsing, so were the ways of dating.

There were many moments in the show where the actors were placed center stage with a single dim light that eliminated any visual aid for the audience, placing concentration solely on the spoken word. 

The dark and morbid writing of Wallace was communicated through dialogue explaining the tale of two parents who had just lost their child. The parent’s thin with grief, described the soul as a wheel stuck spinning round and round, yet completely empty on the inside.

The intimate and almost uncomfortable setting of the theatre room featured one small stage in the center of the room with two rows of chairs surrounding three sides of the stage. The audience measured at a mere 60 seats and the lack of space was felt by every one of those seated individuals. Some of the shocking and almost unbearable moments of the play combined with the confined space of the room, forced the audience to relive the dark realities of society during the Great Depression.

The use of stage lighting in the packed room also allowed for some very realistic sound and visual effects. While Pace and Dalton spent their time under the railroad track, the use of sound effects and lighting put audiences right under the trestle with the duo. Once while a train was crossing the track, and again in the middle of the lightning storm.

The other students involved in the show included Cassandra Slagle, Kyle Ryan and Connor Pratt, each playing the roles of Dalton’s mother, Dalton’s father and a jailor, respectively. Including Dalton and Pace, each of the actors performed exceptionally in the power of simple monologues and a simply set stage.

The play has four more shows this week, from Oct. 22 through Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Ives 76. Contact the box office for tickets and more information.