Visit the Calderwood Pavilion right now and you’ll have your pick of two plays by emerging playwright A. Rey Pamatmat, each a New England premiere, playing in theaters several steps from each other. I even took an extra moment to be sure I walked into the proper one.
When companies at either end of the size (read: budget) spectrum in Boston theater are each staging new works by playwrights whose names may not be the most bankable but whose voices should be heard, that’s a good thing. But when Huntington Theatre Company and Company One Theatre each chose plays from Pamatmat’s slender but swelling oeuvre, the Huntington made out a lot better.
The Huntington’s production of “after all the terrible things I do” reveals some of the play’s seams but is ultimately riveting. Company One’s energetic but unsatisfying take on “Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them” is a less than convincing rendering of a less than convincing play.
The titular Edith is a 12-year-old girl living on an isolated farm with her brother Kenny, who is 16. Their mother died years ago, and their father is rumored to be a doctor (despite the shabbiness of the homefront) but is almost never around. Left to pretty much raise each other, both children are forced to cope with situations well beyond their years. The unfairness of it all is most palpably seen with Edith (usually called Ed or Eddie) whose boasts of self-sufficiency are undercut by her essentially petulant attitude and ill-conceived escape fantasies.
Or at least, that’s how it comes across in Maria Jan Carreon’s performance, which opens on a tone of burnt-end frustration and hits that note, to numbing effect, for the full two acts. Carreon finds none of the subtext or nuance that might craft a more sympathetic—or interesting—character. We suspect there is depth underneath Edith’s defensive exterior, but never see it.
The play groans with the weight of foreshadowing, be it Edith’s penchant for pointing weapons at people or for standing atop a precarious perch in the family’s barn. As Kenny, Gideon Bautista is forced to follow the playwright’s agenda of posing questions and then answering them. Themes are suggested, reinforced and then explicitly stated. Yes, we get it—Kenny stands in for the sibling’s absent mother; gay love is very much like heterosexual love; Edith boasts of being a grown up but really just wants to be a little girl—if anybody didn’t get the gist, all the dots are helpfully connected.
Bautista is best in his scenes with Eddie Shields’ Benji, a classmate and first boyfriend. Both Kenny and Benji are completely comfortable with their sexuality, and are seemingly meant to provide a positive model. Their love is sweet, and taken at face value. Similarly, Kenny and Edith are specifically identified as Filipino, though this does not factor into the play in any way. Perhaps the playwright is making the point that stories concerning “the other” need not be about their otherness. If so, it’s a valuable point.
Shields first plays Benji as caricature, but his portrayal swiftly deepens as Benji’s relationship with Kenny develops. You can feel the weight of bullying on the boy's shoulders—notably, bullying for being a smart kid in a dumb town, not for his sexuality. He’s shy but randy, adventurous but timid. Shields is excellent depicting a traumatic episode that sees a confrontation at home sending Benji to Kenny’s house for refuge. Ultimately, his character is the one most realized, and Benji's arc is the most affecting element here.
Director Shawn LaCount, Company One’s artistic director and co-founder, does well to simulate the play’s many milieux—classrooms, a car, an ice cream counter, Kenny and Edith’s living room—on and around scenic designer Cristina M. Todesco’s wooden frame, which suggests the family barn.
The claustrophobia hounding Edith and Kenny is palpable. You can feel the isolation of their rural home, whose vulnerability is compounded by the lack of authority figures. When Kenny is left to watch TV by himself one night, his aloneness feels like an existential quandary.
More moments like these, in which things are allowed to breathe, would be welcome. But as is, this “Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them” does too much and too little.
Jeremy D. Goodwin contributes regularly to The Boston Globe, the ARTery (where he is also an editor), Berkshire Magazine and many other publications. See more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter here.