PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 4, Part 2, The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek

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Chris Christensen:

Hello and welcome to the PMA podcast. This is episode number four, part three. We are still talking about “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek,” which is going to be opening on March 3rd. It's March 3rd and 4th, and again on the 10th and 11th, and it's taking place in the Flexible Theatre. Today we have Ellie Valastro and Jack Press with us. I want to say hi.

Ellie Valastro:

Hi there.

Jack Press:

Hey.

Chris Christensen:

Alright. Uh, Ellie plays the character of Gin, who is the mother in this play. And Jack plays Dalton, who is Ellie's son, correct?

Jack Press:

Yes, yes, correct. Correct.

Nick Fesette:

The director's still here, too.

Chris Christensen:

And—oh yeah. And Nick Fesette has joined us once again for this episode as well. Ellie, let's talk a little bit about your character.

Ellie Valastro:

Sure. So I play Gin and Gin is, as you said, Dalton's mom. And Gin is, I really like Gin because I think Gin is so hardworking and so determined and Gin is the only one working in her family. So she's the only one bringing in any money. And since this takes place during the Great Depression that's sort of a big deal, and she really, really loves her family, but also really, really wants to be productive and work. And she really wants her husband Dre to work because he has lost his job and he's not working. And I think she wants the best for her family, but also wants the best for herself and at the end decides that she is going to go after what she wants, whether or not that is what's best for her husband and then—I wouldn't give any spoilers or anything. But I do, I think, appreciate her determination and her focus throughout the play.

Chris Christensen:

Okay. There's a point in the play where she says "Trains are always taking people away and never bringing them back." And she says to Dalton, "You're not going anywhere, Dalton." Do you want to talk about that scene at all?

Ellie Valastro:

Sure. I think trains [are] such a theme throughout this play. And I think for Gin, she does talk about how when she was younger, trains would always just take people away and never bring them back. So I think that trains are a real point of sensitivity for Gin and that her fear is that Dalton is going to get on a train and never come back. And I think she does want the best for Dalton. She does want, you know, maybe there's this pipe dream that he might go to college or he might be successful, but on the other hand, if he’s not going to do that, she doesn't want him to just get on a train and leave. She wants him to stay and be with the family. And so it's this hard, it's this conflict I think within Gin.

Ellie Valastro:

She wants the best for him, but she also doesn't want him to just leave and do nothing because if he's not going to go to college, she does want him to stay. And I think in that scene where he says to her, what did you want? And she says, "I wish that someone had told me that I could just stay here and that was fine and just that I wasn't going to go anywhere." And I think she has a hard time saying that to her son because it's hard to say to someone who you love, you know what? You're not going to go anywhere. You're just going to stay in this small town and this is, it sucks and this is probably what's going to happen to you. That's such a hard thing to say to someone. That's really horrible thing to say to someone. But on the other hand, she can't say to him, "Oh no. You're going to be so successful. You're going to go so far. You're going to be so famous," because that's probably not going to happen. And yeah, so it's this hard, it's this moment of, she sort of doesn't know what to say because it's, how do you tell your son that he's probably not going to be successful? But then how do you also say to him, how do you lie and say you're going to be a star, you're going to be so successful when he probably won't.

Chris Christensen:

Want to hear a bit from Dalton?

Jack Press:

Yes.

Chris Christensen:

So let's, uh, let's talk about how that all plays out onstage between the two of you, this dynamic that exists.

Jack Press:

Well, I think that Dalton and his mother are very similar in that they both wanted to go somewhere at one point. One was destroyed by the system that was in place, the capitalist system that really anchored them down, that being Gin. And Dalton's a very young, young man, he's 15 years old going on 16. He has no idea what life has in store for him. And you know when you're 15 or 16, that's when you start to mature. Puberty starts to really hit you. So it's really a time of big exploration. So he really wants to meet girls. He really wants to go to college. He wants to try new things, he wants to socialize, have more friends.

Jack Press:

And at the same time, the big difference here is that this is going on during the Great Depression and he's in poverty and he can't go get a job and he can't go support his mother if he wanted to. Or make money to be the breadwinner for the family because they have a father who's not making any money, he's just sitting, making shadows on the wall. So Dalton isn't able to have those normal teenage experiences that everyone usually gets to have, not everyone, but more people do, that were in Dalton's place at the time. And now Dalton is in the Great Depression and is trying to just make it by, and he's starting to realize throughout the play that all of his dreams and all the things that he wants and he thinks he deserves and he's entitled to have actually, he's never going to be able to have. And none of his friends are ever going to be able to have, and this whole town has never been able to have them because of the socioeconomic conditions at the time. And I think because of that, he shares that with Gin, this hope that is ultimately crushed, although Dalton enters the play with hope...

Chris Christensen:

We don't want to talk too much about where Dalton ends in the play, right? What about the relationship that you both have with the character of Dre? In terms of, he's this character who's there. He's making these shadow puppets, but at the same time he's rather invisible. He's just sort of this person who's present but not present.

Jack Press:

I think that when Dalton sees Dre, he sees someone who he used to look up to who is almost disappeared from his life, where he, it's like the shadows he makes. He's actually become one of those shadows, a shadow of the father figure he used to once have, who used to play catch with him or do activities like read the newspaper, like listen to radio together. And now since he's lost his job, it's almost like he's gone. He's not even part of the family at all. And when Dalton looks back at him, it's almost, he's looking at, looking at a shadow of his former father and it obviously makes him sad, and it also makes him sad because he also wants that person to be there for his mom as well. And he sees that he's not coming through for his mom and his mom needs him so much and Dalton understands that and he feels bad for his mom as well.

Chris Christensen:

Yeah. And Gin—well, Ellie, your character of Gin—one of the elements in the play or themes in the play is this idea of touching or not being touched. And so there's really no intimacy there remains between this husband and wife.

Ellie Valastro:

Yeah. And I think that's extremely hard for Gin, especially because I imagine that they had this great love, when they met and they were younger and it was, they fell in love and it was wonderful. And Gin says that everybody said marrying Dre would be a mistake and that it was the best thing she ever did in her entire life. That was the best mistake. And that's why she, that's how she learned to make mistakes because she, I imagine it really gave up so many things to be with him, but it was because of their love for each other and it was worth it. It was, it was that love that everybody wants, you know, and they had that. And then now that he's lost his job and now that things are very different, it's not there. I think it is there, but it's not represented in the same way. You know, like you said, he doesn't touch her. And that's so hard for Gin, and I think that's one of the big problems for Gin throughout the whole play is that he won't, she still loves him. And I think she knows that he still loves her, but it's because of him not working and his inability to feel like he's really worth something. It makes, it totally up-ended their love as well, which is so hard because Gin knows that he's, he's still there. He's still in there somewhere, but he's not giving her anything. And that's, you know, it's so hard. That's obviously not a way to function as a husband and wife. So I think Gin really struggles with how do I draw that out of him, what we used to have and how do I make that be what we have again, when he is so depressed and so... He's just not himself anymore, at, at least not what he used to be.

Chris Christensen:

And there's this point where when Dalton is in jail and Gin is trying to get Dre to go see his son. "Go see your son." And he says, "I can't." And she says, "Why?" And he says, "I'm afraid they won't see me." And he just feels like he's absolutely invisible. But finally there's this point at which he actually does go to the jail cell and it's a really interesting scene where he brings Dalton a pillow and Jack, I'm really looking forward to seeing the scene in the play.

Jack Press:

The pillow scene?

Chris Christensen:

With the pillow, yeah.

Jack Press:

With Dre?

Chris Christensen:

Yeah. Basically he shows up, he brings to you, your character, something that really has not been a part of your life for quite some time. Just like your father or your character of your father.

Jack Press:

Yeah, exactly. He brings, he brings me my pillow that I haven't used for a very long time, but it's the only thing he thinks to bring me because he just wants to bring me something and he hasn't seen me for so long, or hasn't really had contact with me for so long. And now, I mean the last time we probably had contact was quite some time ago. Now the first time we're having contact, I'm in jail and he brings me this pillow. It's just a striking image of him bringing the pillow and of us talking about how we haven't really talked to each other or really touched each other in quite some time. And it's very interesting how that unfolds.

Chris Christensen:

And it's this difficult moment at the same time because he brings you a pillow that should be soft and it should bring you some comfort. And at the same time, it has all these, these feathers sticking out of it and are poking you that feels like nails.

Jack Press:

And it hasn't really, it's not a pillow that I've really slept on or used, it's pretty useless actually. And the pillow ends up being symbolic for the scene and we don't really delve into much about, what's with this pillow? I don't really use it for sleeping or anything like that, but it ends up becoming more symbolic of the relationship between Dre and Dalton.

Chris Christensen:

Okay. You have a few things to add to the podcast today. Ellie, you brought a poem?

Ellie Valastro:

I did bring a poem. This poem is called "Our Possible Other Lives" and it's by Roy Bentley. And I remember reading the “Grapes of Wrath” in high school as I think many people do. And I actually didn't love it when I read it at the time. But it is, you know, it's obviously a very similar time period. It takes place in the Great Depression and we read some poetry surrounding the book that were either a response to the book or something that was inspired by the book. And so that sort of thinking about cultural cues brought me back to the “Grapes of Wrath,” which then led me to this poetry. And this, I guess, should I just read some of it?

Chris Christensen:

Yeah, absolutely.

Ellie Valastro:

All of it?

Chris Christensen:

Whatever you want to do.

Ellie Valastro:

Okay. Our “Possible Other Lives” by Roy Bentley.

“In one of those my parents don’t meet. One of them doesn’t leave Kentucky for Ohio, and their chance street-corner collision in Dayton is the same primal scream of car traffic but without all that genuine shock of recognition exchanged. Maybe my mother had met a man for pie and was leaving the drugstore soda fountain when another man, Bobby Burns, back from Korea, stopped her in front of the theater in Neon, Kentucky, and said that the Fleming-Neon Pirates, the varsity football team, called to mind a case of hemorrhoids, which made her grin and answer Yes, Bobby, I’m free to an invitation to see a movie that night at the Neon. And maybe the kisses lack something, but she’s tired. In that life, they marry and I’m born in Kentucky—or Bobby Burns reads a story in The Mountain Eagle and says the word Cincinnati like it was the shibboleth he thought he needed to open the Temple of Dream. Either way, my mother is in Ohio. My father, too. Maybe my mother is somewhere buying a novel, something to read herself to sleep, and so chooses a big book, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck. And so they meet in the street and start something romantic between them because Bobby Burns ‘was no Romeo,’ or so she might have explained. Whatever the case, I’d have been my mother’s son. The firstborn of a woman denied too much for far too long not to want everything, and then get it.”

Ellie Valastro:

So I really like the end of that. I think when thinking about Gin, the "whatever the case, I'd have been my mother's son, the first born of a woman denied too much for far too long not to want everything and then get it." Because I think that really, you know, of course every character in a play wants something, but for Gin, she wants it so hard and then at some point says I will do anything I can to get it, you know? And that's, I think why that really struck a chord with me when thinking about this play and thinking about Gin, because of how much she wants Dre, out of love for him and also out of necessity, how much she wants him to get out and do something. And then finally she says, you know what, even if you're not going to do it, I am and I'm going to be productive and I'm going to move forward in a way that she wants him to. But ultimately she says, even if you don't, I still will. And so yeah, that's why I like that.

Chris Christensen:

Glimmer of hope or light in her character because let's face it, all of these characters are suffering to some degree or another. It's not the happiest of plays, but that's okay. You know, we're sort of... Jack, what do we got?

Jack Press:

So when I heard that you wanted a cultural cue for this podcast, I thought of, when I was a kid, we used to, we'd play songs in the car when we went on long drives with my family.

Chris Christensen:

Was that on an eight track?

Jack Press:

No, it was on a mix tape CD.

Chris Christensen:

Oh, very good.

Jack Press:

Yeah, we burned them.

Chris Christensen:

Excellent.

Jack Press:

So one of the songs that my dad and mom used to always play was this song called "Kentucky Woman" by Neil Diamond. And I mean, everyone knows Neil Diamond. I think most people know Neil Diamond. And this is one of his, it's a famous song, but it's probably less heard-of than songs like "Sweet Caroline" or "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon." And the song is like, it's like ended up being like, kind of like a, you know, a generic single, but I've, it star, it really stuck with me and it, it's got a certain quality about it that has to do with really desiring someone. It's all about like infatuation with just, just Oh, a woman. Uh, and I find it relates to Dalton a lot. Let's listen to it. Okay. Yeah.

[song plays]

Kentucky woman
She shines with her own kind of light
She'd look at you once
And a day that's all wrong
Looks all right
And I love her
God knows, I love her

Kentucky woman
If she get to know you
She goin' to own you
Kentucky woman

[song fades out]

Jack Press:

So, so yeah, that's just a little bit of the beginning, but pretty much it's, it's Dalton. Dalton is throughout the plays, very infatuated with the other character who's the other youth of the play, Pace. Okay. And she, as we find out very early on the play, uh, Dalton is actually in prison for the death of Pace, which we do not know whether or not he actually was involved in. But uh, it's clear from the beginning of the play that Dalton is very infatuated with Pace and that drives a lot of his actions throughout the play. And just like the song “Kentucky Woman,” the, it's about a woman from Kentucky just like Pace is from Kentucky, no coincidence there. And it's, it really is about this infatuation, this desire. Naomi Wallace writes up a lot that this is not really necessarily a play about love, but a play about desire and desire and meaning to, to, to not be satisfied with one's own state, into want to go to a different state, a different state that's higher. And Dalton finds with Pace that that's a different state that he could go to. So he's infatuated with this, this woman and all she is and all she brings to his life and all that she believes makes him believe that he can be and a lot of, and I find a lot of that song “Kentucky Woman” is just almost Neil Diamond being like this, this girl can bring me to a different place.

Chris Christensen:

There's certainly very interesting scenes in this play between you and Pace. Um, some that made me feel very uncomfortable as I was reading it and thinking about how those are all going to play out on stage. Um, I don't want to give anything away.

 

Jack Press:

They’ll definitely make the audience pretty uncomfortable and I'm excited for that.

Chris Christensen:

Now how was that in terms of you know, your development as an actor at this point? I don't think I've seen you do anything that sort of steps into this realm of acting.

 

Jack Press: No, I don't think I've done anything that's stepped into this realm of acting as well. It's definitely been interesting. It's definitely, it definitely challenges your comfort zone as an actor. Just trying to see like why you do what you do and how far you're willing to go. And I'd say like at this point, like after a couple of rehearsals, I've pretty much gotten to the point where I'm really comfortable doing most things on stage.

Chris Christensen:

For those of you listening, when you see some of the sound stage, you'll understand all of that. Um, Ellie, earlier you said that this is the first time that you've actually played a mother on stage. Yeah. So how, how is that?

Ellie Valastro:

Um, it's, it is a challenge I think because it's hard to play someone who has had years of experience that you haven't had and who has had such a sort of, this key experience of having a child. I think that the, the connection that a mother has with her son is such a specific thing that is hard to, you know, when you're not in that position. It is sort of hard to imagine that mother-child connection. But on the other hand, um, you know, there are so many people that I love and that I, um, you, it is, you know, it, it is love and it is something that as an actor you can say, okay, like I, I do get this and I think I do feel this. And then you can sort of use that to imagine what it would be like to have a child when you don't. And I think on the other hand, you know, I have a younger sister, so I often feel I'm almost motherly in that sense and I, um, there are so many children that I love and so it's, it has been a challenge because it is hard to play older and it's hard to imagine that connection. But on the other hand, it's a challenge that I really love and have appreciated because it is so exciting to, um, work in that realm when I haven't before really. Um, so yeah, I, I really like it and I haven't had that experience before, but that's, I think why it's so exciting also.

Chris Christensen:

Fantastic. What do you think this brings to the Cornell community? What would you say you offer to your, your peers or others here on campus?

Jack Press:

A Kants—a pun on the chance because this is about the Kantz family—a Kants to be shocked. Shocked and felt very uncomfortable but in a very, very good way. Hopefully.

Chris Christensen:

Okay. Ellie?

Ellie Valastro:

Um, yeah, I think this play, even though it does take place in the 30s, is still very relevant and that's why it's exciting that we're doing it now. And um, one aspect of that I think is the idea of consent and um, you know, Pace says to Dalton something like, you're not going to take anything that I don't want to give you. And you know, there's this idea of after she dies, like what really happened between them. And, um, so that's why you think that it does have themes that are very relevant now even though it does take place in the 30s. And um, it's an interest, it's a nice way to view it because it is a view from the past, but then you can see how it still relates to now. So I think that that's a nice opportunity to say to see how plays can really speak to what's going on now, even though, even if it's not directly and in your face about it.

Chris Christensen:

Okay. Okay.

 

Jack Press:

And another thing I'd say to anyone who's thinking about coming to this show is don't get us wrong. Like this is a political play. So if you're interested in the politics of what's going on right now, then you should come to this play and see what you get out of it, because there's a lot to get out of it.

Chris Christensen:

Okay. Fantastic. Well, thank you both for coming in today. Greatly appreciate it.

Ellie Valastro:

Thank you.

Chris Christensen:

Thanks for listening to the PMA podcast. “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek” opens on Friday, March 3rd. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online at schwartztickets.com or in person at the Schwartz Center box office located at 430 College Avenue in Ithaca, New York.