Some of the most memorable characters in the charming new play “Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up” never actually walk on stage. Although the narrative is densely populated with quirky, often lovably hilarious people, there’s technically only one performer in the theater throughout the evening.
Actress Taylor M. Dooley performs as the young fourth-grade narrator in playwright Lucy Alibar’s delightfully funny and touching new one-woman show (although we learn a great deal about the narrator, she never actually mentions her own name, and the program simply lists the role as “The Girl”).
Most observers probably wouldn’t consider the dilapidated farmhouse in rural South Georgia where the narrator resides with her wonky family members and a busy menagerie of animals a desirable place to live, but to her, it’s a sort of paradise. Like another of the South’s famous young female narrators, the girl in “Throw Me on the Burnpile” lives in awe of her father, an attorney who defends the lowest of the low.
His clients’ families have little money, so the front yard is like a junkyard full of the things they offer as payment instead: a rusty tractor, a randy goat, a beleaguered pig, an old truck, each associated with a different death-row murderer or small-town crook. Her mom constantly Febrezes the mangy family dog, and her little brother, who might be “slightly touched,” as they say, eases his anxiety by holding an egg in his hand throughout the day.
The “burnpile” of the title is a bonfire-like heap of trash in the yard that figures throughout the tale.
The rural South may be a conservative, even at times a deeply conformist, place, but her father is defiantly eccentric. He trains his kids like a drill sergeant, lets his precocious daughter act as his legal secretary as he prepares to defend his clients during gruesome murder trials and throws a “Keep the Christ Out of Christmas” party on Christmas Eve (no carols, just the secular but vaguely festive songs of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary).
As the narrator tells us about her world in her peripatetic monologue — her strange home, her classmates, her friends and family members — we slowly get a sense of the special, loving relationship she has with her father. The narrator doesn’t tell us of her father’s death, but the tale nonetheless has an elegiac tone throughout, and we learn early on that the father has a dangerously weak heart with an audible murmur.
Dooley, a member of Dad’s Garage improv comedy troupe in Atlanta, is adept at not only bringing the central role to life but also at quickly jumping into and out of the voices and mannerisms of the various other folks that populate the play. Her tales of befriending the class bully on a camping trip or standing up to her condescending, conventional teacher are especially endearing.
Alibar is the Oscar-nominated screenwriter behind the 2012 film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (the film was first a play titled “Juicy and Delicious”). As a one-woman theatrical show, “Throw Me on the Burnpile” has a very different feeling from the film, but it shares the movie’s eye for quirky detail and its heartfelt father-daughter relationship. Many of the details in the new play parallel Alibar’s own background growing up in rural South Georgia’s Grady County.
“Most people don’t know how lucky they are” is the way that the narrator’s iconoclastic but optimistic father reminds his family to appreciate all the good things around them. It’s sound advice. “Throw Me on the Burnpile” is currently being developed as a pilot for FX television, so audience members who encounter it first as a sweet, touching, intimate play during its short run will no doubt leave the theater contemplating just how lucky they really are.
“Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up”
Through Oct. 1. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $20-$30. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222, www.auroratheatre.com.
Bottom line: A charming tale of a quirky Southern girlhood that’s hard not to love.
IN OTHER THEATER NEWS:
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.