The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, at Breadline Theatre. Naomi Wallace's portrait of Depression-era rural poverty, adolescent desires, and stunted prospects is wildly uneven, filled with Faulknerian turns of phrase and sledgehammer symbolism. Karen Kessler's staging--a Chicago premiere by Rivendell--doesn't overcome all the script's drawbacks, but her performers do commit to the occasionally murky and overwritten dialogue, playing it with honesty and compassion.
Becca Kotler is beguiling as Pace, a frustrated teen who gets her kicks racing trains over a bridge, but her performance doesn't always convey the character's darker aspects. Jason Sawyer as Dalton, perhaps Pace's boyfriend, is a little too callow--his supposed desperation to escape his soul-deadening environment never quite rings true. The best moments belong to Dalton's parents, James Leaming as a beaten-down unemployed foundry worker and Tara Mallen as a glass-factory employee whose hands have turned permanently blue from chemicals. Their attempt to rekindle the passion that once brought them together plays out in a wistful game of plate tossing (broken glass is an overworked metaphor in Wallace's writing).
But dramatic tension is lacking, and the play's central events--which we know will happen long before they do--aren't justified by Pace's or Dalton's previous behavior. Wallace usually opts for repetitive imagery rather than internal logic, and even the best efforts of a talented cast and director can't overcome the resultant airlessness.