PAD to present “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek” Jan. 24-27

Naomi Wallace drama explores coming-of-age in Great Depression

The 7:10 train rattles through a small, rural town battered by the Great Depression. Two teenagers play a dangerous game of “chicken,” racing the 153-ton engine across a narrow railroad bridge.

Welcome to “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek,” a poignant and erotically charged coming-of-age tale by playwright Naomi Wallace, winner of a 1999 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, or “genius grant.” The Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences will present the play Jan. 24-27 in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center.

The student cast of “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek.” From left to right: Reynolds Whalen as Dray Chance; Lee Osorio as Chas Weaver; Michael Lefemine as Dalton Chance; Elizabeth Birkenmeier as Pace Creagan; and Julia Mancini as Gin Chance. The Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences will present the play Jan. 24-27 in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center.

The story, which unfolds largely in flashback, opens with Dalton Chance (sophomore Michael Lefemine) — a local boy who once dreamed of going to college — making shadow puppets against the walls of a prison cell. Dalton is suspected of killing his friend, Pace Creagan (senior Elizabeth Birkenmeier), a rebellious girl who challenged him to run the trestle.

“Pace has a depressingly realistic view of the options available to people like her and Dalton,” said Andrea Urice, senior lecturer in drama in Arts & Sciences and former artistic administrator for Actors Theater of Louisville, which debuted “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek” in 1999. “She also has this compelling need to take on forces larger than herself — to be different and to be seen as being different.

“Pace sort of picks out Dalton to either run the trestle with her or to be her witness when she does it again,” Urice said. “Dalton is a good boy, a good student from a good family, though his father has been laid off from work. Pace forces him to cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood, and in so doing the scales fall from his eyes. Now Dalton wrestles with thoughts and feelings that are complicated by knowledge and awareness and, perhaps, love.”

The play also stars senior Reynolds Whalen as Dray Chance, Dalton’s father, and senior Julia Mancini as Gin Chance, Dalton’s mother, who works at a glass factory. Rounding out the five-member cast is senior Lee Osorio as Chas Weaver, the town jailer whose son, Brett, was killed running the trestle.

“Everyone is dealing, in some way, with fundamental questions of identity,” Urice said. “Chas is still adjusting to the loss of his son. Gin, forced into the role of family breadwinner, is getting involved with organized labor, while Dray, who defined himself through work, sits at home afraid to venture out into a world that may no longer ‘see’ him as a real person.

“Wallace’s work is very spare but also very challenging and filled with beautiful language and provocative ideas,” Urice said. “Though this is not a ‘political play,’ every inch is permeated by the economic and social conditions of the characters’ lives.”

The stark, abstracted sets and lighting are by Lecturers in Performing Arts Angela Bengford and Sean Savoie, respectively, with costumes by junior Lauren Talamo. (“No overalls for any characters,” Wallace instructs in the script. “Being poor and white in 1930s America is not synonymous with poor dress taste, nor Ma and Pa Kettle outfits.”) Sound design is by alum Pushkar Sharma.

Wallace, a native of Prospect, Ky., is the author of 10 plays, including “Slaughter City” and “In the Heart of America.” Other works include scripts for the films “Lawn Dogs” and “War Boys,” the latter scheduled for release in 2008. Her work has been produced in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.

Show times are at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Jan. 24 and 25; at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27.

Tickets are $15 — $9 for students, senior citizens and faculty and staff — and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets. For more information, call 935-6543.