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The Burnt Part Boys at Griffin Theatre Company

Published on 22nd November 2012

★★★☆☆

Griffin Theatre Company. Book by Mariana Elder. Music by Chris Miller. Lyrics by Nathan Tysen. Dir. Jonathan Berry. With ensemble cast. 1hr 35mins; no intermission.

Set in rural West Virginia in 1962, The Burnt Part Boys tells a refreshingly simple, bluegrass-tinged tale. A decade after four miners were killed in a disaster—including the father of 18-year-old Jake (Mike Tepeli) and younger brother Pete (Charlie Fox)—the company is set to reopen the mine. Jake, who dropped out of school to support Pete and their unseen,depressed mother, is on the fast track to foreman and has seemingly made his peace with working in the mine where his dad died. But Pete, too young to remember his father, sees the area that the locals call the Burnt Part as sacred space. Inspired by his silver-screen idols—Alamo folk heroes Sam Houston, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, who speak to him in fantasy sequences—Pete enlists his best friend Dusty (Max Zuppa) on a quest to blow up the mine.

The 2010 play’s action covers just a single day, as Pete and Dusty forge their way toward the Burnt Part while Jake and his uncouth pal Chet (Morgan Maher) give chase. Director Jonathan Berry keeps the journey visually interesting even as the actors retread the same ground, using wooden chairs and ropes to convey a craggy, ever-changing landscape. Composers Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen, set to make their Broadway debut in the spring with an adaptation of Tuck Everlasting, have penned a lovely, twangy score. Though Mariana Elder’s book often seems to be stalling for time, the compelling, sweet-voiced Tepeli and Fox dig for deep veins of truth.

Time Out Chicago issue no. 404, Nov 22–28, 2012