URBANA — For “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek,” “there are going to be a lot of questions in the intermission,” said a main actor, Gabe Halstead-Alvarez.
The play, opening Friday at the Station Theatre, tells “the story of two young people growing up in the American Midwest and searching for a future in what seemed like a hopeless time,” director Saskia Bakker said.
It’s 1936 rural America at the height of the Great Depression, and teenagers are taking enormous risks by the title trestle, which is a real place.
“I was drawn to the play because I fell in love with the playwright, Naomi Wallace, this year at school,” Bakker said.
“She has such a beautiful way with words and a passion for history that I found fascinating. I connected with each of the characters, especially Pace, a daring 17-year-old girl who is strong and spunky and smart.”
Bakker said the coming-of-age story “made the Station Theatre (Urbana’s first train station) seem like, historically and aesthetically, the most perfect place to have it performed. A lot of people in America don’t produce Naomi Wallace plays — perhaps their political and historical foundations hit a little too close to home.”
The Kentucky native is an activist.
Wallace was briefly detained by Homeland Security after defying the ban on travel to Cuba. In 2016, Wallace was one of the Freedom Riders on the Women’s Boat to Gaza, a female crew that launched the trip to protest Israel’s naval blockade there.
And that continues with her plays and screenplays.
One of the lead actresses, Christine des Garennes, said Wallace’s play deals with real issues.
“I think the play is a moving portrait of a family in crisis during the Depression and a coming-of-age play with complex themes and characters,” she said.
“It’s definitely wrought with emotion. Each character struggles with both interior and exterior challenges. For my character, Gin, those struggles include dealing with a husband who is out of work and hasn’t shown me any affection in a long time, I work in a factory where my co-workers are being laid off and where our hands have turned blue from chemicals.
Her character does not want son Dalton “to be disappointed when the world fails him.”
“Saskia has given a lot of thought to Naomi Wallace’s play, the language and the messages. When the cast first met, she shared with us some articles about the playwright and her intent, the real Pope Lick trestle, information about glass manufacturing in the 1930s, unemployment during the Depression and its effect on families,” des Garennes said.
Halstead-Alvarez, a Champaign native and theater performance major at The Theatre School at DePaul, formerly the Goodman School of Drama, acts throughout the school year. He started acting here in community theater.
This summer, he said, he wanted to flex his muscles with a challenging work he already knew from practicing Dalton’s monologue, which he said is a favorite for theater tryouts.
He likes some unusual aspects of “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek.”
“Naomi Wallace did the play from multiple perspectives,” he said. “It bounces back and forth. I guarantee people will be talking about this darkly twisted play afterward.”