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THEATER REVIEW: Moxie’s memorable “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek”

The trestle above Pope Lick Creek is 100 feet above the ground, and over that trestle hustles the 560-ton train that chugs though the small Kentucky town of Fisherville.

It’s 1936, and like the rest of the country, Fisherville is drowning in dashed hopes, high unemployment and wrecked lives wrought by the Great Depression.

Pace Creagan (Amanda Osborn), a 17-year-old tomboy daredevil who fears nothing and will try anything, has discovered the challenge of trying to outrun the 560-ton train. Now she wants to bully 15-year-old Dalton Chance (Ryan Kidd) into doing the run with her.

“The engine herself’s 153 tons,” she tells him. “And not cotton, kid. Just cold, lip-smackin’ steel. Imagine a kiss like that.”

Her final argument: “’Cause if you don’t your life will turn out just like you think it will: quick, dirty and cold.”

She sees the run as a way to feel alive in this deadening climate of economic collapse. And she somehow feels she owes it to a friend who almost made it.

Meanwhile, at the Chance home, Dalton’s dad Dray (John Polak), a former factory worker become nearly catatonic in injury-forced retirement, stays in voluntary housebound confinement for fear of going outside and being “invisible.” He amuses himself making shadow animals against the wall, while wife Gin (Michelle Brooks) deals with hands turned blue by new chemicals used at her job at the glass factory.

Playwright Naomi Wallace paints a devastating portrait of youthful courage and bravado in the face of despair in “The Trestle At Pope Lick Creek,” playing through Oct. 28 at Moxie Theatre. Delicia Turner Sonnenberg directs.

There’s no mystery about whether they will make it, because at the top of the show we find Dalton in jail awaiting trial for killing Pace. Scenes shift between past and present (and Dalton sees Pace in real time and as a ghost), but the story is the need for connection, psychic and physical, a basic human need only heightened in bad times. (That last results in one of the most sensuous non-sex scenes in theater history.)

Dalton’s parents communicate while tossing dinner plates back and forth. Dray is unable to engage in any other way; though he longs to touch his wife, he fears the pit of anger in his gut will erupt into violence.

Osborn and Kidd, newcomers to Moxie, are perfectly cast here. Osborn’s soulful eyes and tomboyish mannerisms suit her for this part.

Kidd is ideally cast as the naive but curious Dalton, at once fascinated by this brash girl, hopeful that she might satisfy his sexual curiosity and scared by the prospect of the run.

Polak is moving as the beaten down Dray; Brooks’ Gin, determined to hold the family together both financially and emotionally, shows both longing and a small ray of hopefulness.

Jack Missett turns in a quirky performance as Dalton’s jailer Chas (father of the classmate who didn’t manage to outrun the train), who sees prisoners as animals of different species.

This season, Moxie is exploring the American character. In “The Trestle At Pope Lick Creek,” Wallace’s poetic yet visceral imagery is haunting; the drama devastating. This is not a play you will forget easily.

The details

“The Trestle At Pope Lick Creek” plays through Oct. 28 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N, in the college area.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call 858-598-7620 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.