Forget the incredible suspension of disbelief required to buy this kid's being able to purloin the explosives and the superhokey ending in which all involved receive a ghostly visitation and miraculously survive a disaster. There is potential for an honest examination of a boy growing up without a father and the effects of a tragedy on a town and a family. But book writer Mariana Elder overplays her hand, drowning her script in sentimentality and having the characters speak in mannered Southern-fried phrases that come across as failed imitations of Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty. Chris Miller's music has a welcome country twang, and lyricist Nathan Tysen strives to avoid the genre's clichés, but he gets trapped in them too often.
Director Joe Calarco cleverly uses the entire mainstage space as well as ladders on wheels and chairs to convey the sense of a hike through mountainous territory. He's aided by Brian Prather's rough-hewn set and Chris Lee's ingenious lighting to create the backcountry setting.
As Pete, young Al Calderon carries the weight of the show on his teenaged shoulders and does his best to handle the burden with professionalism and grit. Molly Ranson's Frances is similar to hellion girls seen in the novels of Truman Capote and Carson McCullers, but Ranson brings out the familiar adolescent ache with a heartbreaking clarity. Noah Galvin steals the show with an underplayed rendering of the misfit Dustin. Charlie Brady, Andrew Durand, and Michael Park have to take a back seat as the adults, but they display fine vocals and strong limning.
Presented by Playwrights Horizons and Vineyard Theatre at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St., NYC. May 25–June 13. Tue.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 2:30 p.m. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com. Casting by Alaine Alldaffer, Jim Carnahan, and Carrie Gardner.