Sunday, June 14, 2015

Company One Presents The New England Premiere of "Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them" by A. Rey Pamatmat - An Absolute MUST SEE!!!

Company One!  Bold, innovative, risk taking, edgy, challenging, provocative, iconoclastic, original, intriguing, thought-provoking, boundary-pushing.  All of these words and phrases apply to this theatre company's mission and their execution on that mission.  They apply with equal force to the current production playing at the Boston Center for the Arts: The New England Premiere of "Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them" by the extraordinarily talented playwright A. Rey Pamatmat. Another of his plays, "After All The Terrible Things I Do," is being produced concurrently by the Huntington Theatre Company downstairs from the venue for "Edith."

Here is the way that Company One explains the premise of this play:

"With no parents, little food, and nothing in the bank account, 12-year-old Edith, her brother Kenny, and a giant stuffed frog are doing just fine, thank you very much. Making the rules up as they go, Kenny gets more than mix-tapes from his new friend, Benji, and Edith ends up shooting something for real. Funny and full of heart, this coming of age story explores the gap between childhood and whatever comes next."

Drawing from his own experience of growing up in a remote part of Michigan, the playwright sets the action of this play in a generic isolated section of the Midwest - a 45 minute ambulance ride to the nearest hospital.  Edith is a 12 year-old who lives with her 16 year-old brother Kenny,  Their mother has died, and their father, a physician, has effectively abandoned them to plunge himself into his work at the hospital and his relationship with his girlfriend.  He is seldom at home, and sporadically sends money for them to subsist on.  The third member of the troika of characters who draw this play along is Benji, a nerdy classmate of Kenny whose mother is as over-controlling as Edith and Kenny's father is under-controlling.  These three form a constantly shifting set of geometric patterns in their relationships with one another.  Separately, they each undergo dramatic changes in this coming of age tale that explores issues of identity, maturity and sexuality in tender ways.

I hesitate to share many specific plot points, for fear of spoiling some wonderful twists that occur. I am happy, however, to reflect on the themes that underlie the action of this play.  These three young people show remarkable maturity in dealing with the fears and challenges and obstacles that are placed in their paths.  They accept one another for who they are while at the same time pushing each other to grow beyond their limitations.  Edith's acceptance of the growing love between Kenny and Benji creates an emotional safe haven for all three of them while parental and peer influences condemn them for their actions.

Like the characters who come alive on this stage, the set designed by Cristina Todesco is both simple and complex.  It is a rough wooden structure that offers multiple playing levels.  At various points in the narrative, the space becomes a barn roof, a hay loft, a living room, a car, an ice cream parlor, and a reform school.  The effect is multiplied by the well-conceived sound design of  Ed Young, lighting by Jen Rock and costumes by Rafael Jaen.

Edith feels the need to protect Kenny and herself from forces - both real and imagined - that might seek to disrupt the world they have created for themsleves to fill the vacuum left with the death of their mother and their father's abdication of his parental responsibilities.  So she has taught herself to shoot - with a pellet gun and a bow and arrow. Kenny, as a math whiz, thinks in algorithms - "If this, then that."  A Rubik's Cube is used twice in the play as a visual metaphor for the complexities that the three characters face.  Early in the play, when the three young people seem to have things under control, Kenny is able to solve the three-dimensional puzzle in a dazzling display of mental and digital dexterity.  Later, as things begin to unravel for him and Edith and Benji, he tries once again to align all of the facets of the Cube   This time he gives up in frustration and his inability to put this right - with the Cube and with life..

What makes this such a profoundly moving and satisfying piece of theater are the confluence of many elements that all flow together seamlessly.  The creative elements described above provide the platform upon which the playwright's words came be brought to life by three superbly talented actors, directed with exquisite care by Shawn LaCount.

Maria Jan Carreon (Edith)
 in Company One Theatre's
(Photo by Paul Fox)

Maria Jan Carreon is eerily believable as a 12 year-old girl who is wise beyond her years. Everything about her performance draws us in and compels us to identify with her struggles.  She is the younger of the two siblings, yet she has figured out that she needs to be the one to "protect the perimeter" - both physically and figuratively.  In two of her most riveting scenes, she is perched high atop the part of the set that represents the top of the barn, giving her a perspective on the homestead and on the surrounding world that provides her with a broad aperture and deep understanding for someone of such tender years.  Mr. Pamatmat has chosen a brilliant device that allows us to know Edith's inner thoughts: she shares them with her stuffed frog, her own personal amphibian analyst and comrade in arms.  When Kenny tells her, near the end of the play, that he needs her - and needs her to be a little girl for a little while - we see her melt into a new understanding of herself and of their new relationship.  And our hearts melt at this poignant interchange.  This is a performance of enormous impact by an actor who is also wise beyond her chronological years.

Eddie Shields (Benji) and Gideon Bautista (Kenny)
in Company One Theatre's
(Photo by Paul Fox)

Gideon Bautista portrays Kenny as a young man who appears to have things under control, yet who in moments of candor with himself and with Benji, admits to being a scared little boy.  This is a performance rich in nuanced expression.  His combination of tenderness and pseudo-macho bravura in his dealings with Benji perfectly depict the insecurity and ambivalence of a young gay man beginning to come to grips with his sexuality and his growing awareness of his affection for his best friend.  Mr. Bautista's moment to shine most brightly in this play occurs when he finally finds the courage to confront his father and demand that he be given the latitude he has earned to make decisions for himself and for Edith..  The conversation takes place on the phone, so we hear only Kenny's side of things.  In those brief moments, Kenny grows up before our eyes.  The Cowardly Lion has discovered that he has courage buried deep within, and he begins to roar.  And it is wondrous to behold.  Since both Ms. Carreon and Mr. Bautista are proud graduates of Emerson College, young actors who are looking forward to studying acting in school should be rushing to submit their applications to the program that consistently prepares some of Boston and New York's finest performers and artists./

As Benji, the third member of this DIY family, Eddie Shields is brilliant.  His character grows in several directions.  Beginning as a Mama's boy whose every decision is dictated by her and whose every need attended to by her, he develops into a confident young man who is able to proclaim his own Declaration of Independence in word and in deed.  In the early stages of exploring the mutual attraction he shares with Kenny, he tries hard to place a patina of normalcy on their feelings and clumsy groping by citing a medical dictionary and reading the scientific definitions of the acts they are performing with one another. If it has a scientific name, they they are doing  research and it must be OK and must be normal.   Mr. Shields has a powerful scene in which he enters the home of Edith and Kenny as a broken shell of himself.  His mother, in her perpetual snooping, has discovered a mix tape that Benji has made for Kenny, and a note in which he tentatively and sheepishly declares his love for Kenny.  The mother erupts in fury and kicks Benji out of the house.  In desperation, he asks his speechless and spineless father to drive him to Kenny's place, since he has no place else to go.  It is a powerful moment in a memorable performance by another gifted actor.

Although the playwright and Edith and Kenny are of Filipono heritage, I have not chosen to highlight that fact in my review.  The reasons for this choice is that Mr. Pamatmat has written a play of such universal significance and application that it transcends the particular experience of ethnicity or background.  He has painted a vivid picture of American kids struggling to make sense of the world and of themselves.  Simply put, the playwright shot at a lot of targets in this plays, and he hit several bulls eyes!

If you miss seeing this play, you will be missing an extraordinary day or evening at the theater.  It simply does not get an better than this.  The play runs through June 27.  Check the Company One website for information about tickets and follow-up events and discussions.

Company One Website



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