Trestle at Pope Lick Creek

Brendan Deeds catches Prime Cut's latest offering at the Belfast Festival

Every year the Old Museum Arts Centre nabs the cream of the Belfast Festival crop and this year is no different.

Already it has been host to the simply sublime All Wear Bowlers - a post-modern vaudeville act which anyone with a pulse would enjoy - and now audiences can visit OMAC for another theatrical treat, Naomi Wallace’s poetic and tender Trestle at Pope Lick Creek.

Trestle at Pope Lick CreekThe play is set  in a small US town, slowly withering during the harshest years of the Depression. Dalton Chance (Paul Mallon) is a gauche sixteen-year-old who becomes infatuated with the tomboyish Pace Creagan, a girl two years his senior. Pippa Nixon’s Pace is like a force of nature, fiery, passionate and beguiling. Neither Dalton nor the audience can help but fall under her spell.

Pace introduces the boy into a complex world of passion, rebellion and a deadly game of chicken with the daily steam train that thunders across the trestle bridge over the waterless Pope Lick Creek, some 100 feet below.

Much of the play is told in a series of flashbacks from the prison cell where Dalton awaits judgement, accused of Pace’s murder but all is not as it seems.

The play is much more than a study of teen angst, although the frustrations of a generation growing up without a future is one of its most poignant and relevant themes.

Trestle at Pope Lick CreekIt is the lyrical coming of age tale which subtly explores the devastating human effects of the economic collapse of American capitalism that is the most powerful achievement of Wallace’s play. The floundering of capitalism in the 30s is the ghost that haunts America today and which drives it feverishly forward.

We see its effects on each character in the play. Robert Jezek delivers a heartrending performance as Dalton’s father, a man falling apart since he lost his job. His personality fracturing, he is at times furious, pitiful and desperate. Maggie Cronin plays his wife as a woman starved of passion but determined to keep her family from disintegrating.

There is a wonderful scene where the couple toss a dinner plate back and forth between them as they talk. It hits the floor and shatters, its fragility reminding us that we too are fragile.

Though Arthur Miller's The American Clock shows a family crumbling under the strain of the Depression in a linear, realist way, Wallace’s jumbled narrative somehow seems more authentic. Her splintered story captures the powerful forces and effects of the period in a profound and moving way.

Alan Farquharson’s set is wonderful. A fine mesh imprinted with a photograph of the trestle, towers over the players. Its transparency allows us to see beyond to a darkening horizon. The trestle’s frame, like a skeleton of some mythical beast, is both a challenge to thrill-seeking teens and a reminder of the dead community their actions defy.

Pace warns Dalton what will happen to him if he doesn’t run the trestle: 'If you don't, your life will turn out just like you think it will: quick, dirty, and cold.'

She understands that sometimes you have to risk your flesh to save your spirit.

With Patrick O Kane’s delicate direction, a superb script and talented cast, Prime Cut Productions have brought us another high quality piece of theatre.

Trestle at Pope Lick Creek runs in the Old Museum Arts Centre from October 26  – November 4.