You might think that living all alone out in the country, away from the crowds and traffic and noisy bustle of modern America, would be a chance to relax—just you and the silence. But if you have ever spent time in such isolation, you know that the silence has depth. After a while, you hear every leaf blown by the wind, every creak of the house. Being that alone can drive social creatures like us a little mad.
Now imagine being in that situation without an easy escape. That's what Edith faces in A. Rey Pamatmat's thrilling new play, Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, which receives its local premiere (part of a rolling world premiere) from Mu Performing Arts.
Somewhere in the Midwest in the early 1990s, we join a trio of characters living in their own types of isolation. Edith is 12, precocious and bright. She lives almost completely without adult supervision on an isolated farm, relying instead on her 16-year-old brother, Kenny, for support. Their mother is dead. Their father is almost always absent, little more than a specter who provides money for them to live. Sometimes he even forgets to provide that.
Kenny not only has to keep the household together, he also must keep up with his studies and deal with his own awakening sexuality. That comes from Benji, an awkward classmate who feels his own isolation, even though his home is full. Of course, in those pre-World Wide Web days, exploring gay feelings took a little more work, and the two set out in a decidedly geeky way, looking for gay and lesbian love scenes in the comic book Shade, the Changing Man or using a dictionary and medical textbooks for terms about what they are doing and clues on what can come next.
Pamatmat wisely leaves the adult world out of the equation. Parents are spoken of but never seen (except in a clever representation at the end of Act One). The only onstage communication with the outside world comes through an old rotary phone, which Kenny often leaves disconnected, because all it brings is reminders of how precarious the family's position is.
That's what we have here, a family, made up of three bright youngsters who are writing the rules as they go along, using whatever clues they can glean from the outside world. Kenny focuses on logic and hiding in plain sight, trying not to draw the attention of the outside world to the farm, which could easily mean that he and his sister would be split up. Edith envisions herself as the home's protector, and she's a deft shot with a BB gun.
The setup challenges the actors in a way that I'm sure is a real thrill. Pamatmat's script is dense and rich, embracing the cauldron of youthful emotions and crafting a world that makes perfect sense to the characters but would rightly horrify any responsible adult. Isabella Dawis does a phenomenal job as Edith, fully inhabiting a character who is between childhood and adulthood, without making a stop at adolescence to grow up. Dawis never lets Edith's inner anger—about being abandoned by her mother and father, about not having the freedom to leave the dark and scary farm as she wishes—move too far under the surface, convincing you that this is a character who is truly capable of anything.
As Kenny and Benji, Alex Galick and Matthew Cerar showcase a delightful chemistry that brings out all the emotional turmoil, a lot of it very good, of first love. Cerar's loose-limbed performance in particular is a highlight, whether he is discovering the simple joy of snuggling with a loved one on the couch or doing a private dance to George Michael's "Faith" while writing a love note to Kenny.
Galick needs to keep his character closest to the vest, as Kenny is the nearest thing to a fully fledged adult here. Still, he is able to show us Kenny's comfort with Benji, his love for Edith, and—in a brilliant moment late in the play—his sheer anger at what his father has done to the family. It's a hard moment to play, as all he has to act with is a telephone receiver, but the scene comes alive as if the unnamed figure that has left the children behind were in the room.
Director Randy Reyes keeps the focus on the actors, which is augmented by the minimal set (Mina Kinukawa) and sound design (Zachary Humes). In the kids' isolation, a single ringing phone can be the most jarring sound—one that, for our characters, almost always brings bad news from the outside world.