Company One has done it again with the most provocative, engrossing, well-acted, and directed show onstage in Boston right now: EDITH CAN SHOOT THINGS AND HIT THEM. It’s another unwieldy but aptly titled play by hot new playwright A. Rey Pamatmat whose other show in town AFTER ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS I DO has been mounted in a terrific production by Huntington Theatre Co. right downstairs at the Calderwood Pavilion. EDITH occupies the higher ground– in every way– upstairs at the same venue in the intimate performance space of Deane Hall.
12 year old sixth grader Edith and her 16 year old brother Kenny are latch key kids; mother deceased, father gone to his girlfriend’s and barely sending enough money home so the kids can eat; thus the two are raising themselves. That they are Filipino, as is the playwright, is beside the point and I love that. The play is utterly universal –how to take care of yourself and grow up nourished, intact, independent and at home– no matter the hurdles.
When we first meet Edith–“Ed,” Maria Jan Carreon in a fiercely funny, all out, high energy performance, she’s perched aloft in the barn, clutching her constant companion a stuffed frog, and convincing herself aloud that she is a big girl, an alien in disguise, and can take care of herself and everybody else. Edith’s weapons are her aggressive curiosity, her keen intelligence (a straight A student who easily manages fractions and decimals) and an air rifle and a bow and arrow that she brandishes as she “patrols the perimeter.” We love this girl’s fearlessness. Edith can shoot things and hit them– but should she have to? Ah. There’s the rub.
Her brother Kenny–Gideon Bautista a charmer in the role–is an ostensibly calm but stressed big brother who has stepped in to parent his
little sister and keep the family stories straight. He also has a knack for math, “pre-calc,” and in one scene dazzles us with Rubik’s cube! If only life were that logical–“If this, then that.” Their challenge is infinitely more complex; the nut they all have to crack is an emotionally and psychologically intricate maze of challenges, including Kenny’s growing attraction to his best friend Benji in a tender, deeply sensitive, bravura performance by Eddie Shields. I love this guy– my new crush this season. Kenny and Benji tentatively, but surely, move toward each other until Benji suddenly kisses Kenny smack on the lips, the audience subtly gasps, and the two begin to navigate their relationship and identities as young gay men.
Benji is also a wiz kid at school but spends most of his energy hiding his homosexuality from his hostile mother, his non-committal father, and his bullying brother. In one of Pamatmat’s trademark scenes, Benji and Kenny find comfort in dictionary definitions, the “scientific,” “nonjudgmental” terms for who they are: “homosexual” not “faggot,” “fellatio” not “blow job.” That they find themselves safe in the pristine world of dictionary language, tells them they are not abnormal, or alone, and that who they are is somehow validated, and real. But again, life lived beyond those neutral definitions, somewhere in the social thicket of moral judgement is what they have to hack their way through in order to thrive.
They find their voices in the anthems of the period–late 80’s/90’s judging by the rotary phones, note passing (not texting), and soundtrack–which includes George Michael’s FAITH. They must finally believe that everything is fixable. In fact the soundtrack begins before the show does with ushers and audience bopping to Cher’s IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME, and is amplified by a detailed soundscape by Ed Young that evokes everything from what Edith pings with her rifle, to the TV, traffic noise, crowded HS classrooms, and more to fill out this vivid inner and outer world. Scenic designer Cristina Todesco’s ingenious two-tiered set stands in for everything from a barn, a car, and an ice cream parlor, to a high school, and the family’s home.
Company One’s artistic director Shawn LaCount has orchestrated this lucid, articulate script and a charismatically combustible three-some with great care. We feel every emotional beat– Kenny and Benji in the throes of giddy first love and self-awareness, “Edith’s” tenderness beneath her fearsome exterior, and Benji’s heartbreaking test of resilience in a primal moment of rejection, his feelings as painfully askew as the buttons on his shirt. I ached for him and them as they boldly took aim at these moments and hit them out of the park.
If you are looking for yourself and some courage to be who you are–you will find it here. DO NOT MISS “EDITH CAN SHOOT THINGS AND HIT THEM” at the BCA’s CALDERWOOD PAVILION through June 27th. And this Sunday (6/14) is PAY WHAT YOU CAN!!!! You can’t beat that– I’ve already sent two people!