Amy Beddows 5:26 p.m., June 18
Photo credit: Daren Scott
What sounds like an untoward oxymoron's an actual place: Pope Lick is a creek near Fisherville, Kentucky. An old, 90-foot high trestle spans it. Since at least three people died while walking across, today a chain link fence blocks entry.
In Naomi Wallace's drama, it's one of the few places to prove you still exist.
It's 1936. The creek's as arid as the townspeople's hopes. The Depression has literally depressed them so much that some need a witness to validate they're alive ("tell me I'm here," one says; "I don't know how to belong to my life," says another). Things are so upside-down, many equate love with rage and murder.
Seventeen-year-old Pace, a child of nature, dares to confront the obvious. The locals are the living dead, she says. They're like potatoes left in a box. They assume they're growing roots, but are only sucking air.
Pace devised a challenge: Play chicken on the trestle with an oncoming train. It's "a piece of cake if you time it right." Just make the cross before the 560 ton monster starts on the far side. If it gets there first, the train wins.
You must keep moving (which becomes the play's ruling statement, since all but Pace are so stuck they're practically immobile). When Bret Weaver failed to make the cross, he wasn't drunk. Instead, like Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld, he made the mistake of looking back.
Of course, Pace tells young, impressionable Dalton, "don't run the trestle, and your life will turn out like you think it will - quick, dirty, and cold."
The playwright marbles the script with poetic language, images, and metaphors: knives keep cropping up; talk of breaking someone in half (three times, at least). Plus, the characters are remarkably articulate self-diagnosticians. They define their condition and the nation's in headlines ("the country is killing my father").
For Moxie, director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg does an admirable job of grounding the poetry, whenever possible, and adding visual images to enhance the story.
As do the designers. Luke Olson's excellent lighting turns Rogelio Rosale's set - a timber trestle - into a real object or abstract work of art, depending. Kevin Anthenill's sounds include the 7:05 train booming across the tracks. Jennifer Brawn Gittings's costumes are pure period - even the shoes!
The supporting cast is uneven, at best, partly because the roles are more representatives than actual people. As the jailer, Jack Missett rarely connects, either with his pseudo-accent or with the other actors. John Polak and Michelle Brooks (Dalton's parents Dray and Gin) don't move far beyond types: he the glum unemployed (ergo de-sexed) male, she the budding liberator. And when Dray suddenly decides to change, neither the text nor the actor make it credible.
Youngsters carry the show. As Dalton, Pace's latest reclamation project, Ryan Kidd exudes a fragile innocence and a fierce need to make sense beyond the givens: be they of the Depression or his sexuality. The performance is assured as Dalton is perplexed.
Amanda Osborn's Pace never smiles fully. Osborn, in fact, underplays a role others would hype: as a jazzy mystic, or witch, or Cassandra-prophet. In effect Osborn builds an aura of mystery around an unlikely teenager, wise beyond her years. She also gives Pace a tortured, deeply moving urgency.
Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, College Area, playing through October 28.