Edith Tolentino may be only 12, but she has an air rifle and a bow and arrow, and in A. Rey Pamatmat’s 2011 play “Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them,” she fulfills the title boast. Which is just as well, since she and her 16-year-old brother, Kenny, and Kenny’s friend, Benji, are stranded in what the playwright calls “a remote non-working farm outside of a remote town in remotest Middle America” in the early 1990s, and she’s got to protect everyone. “Edith” aims at some easy targets, notably bigotry and bad parents. At least the production from Company One Theatre now up at the Boston Center for the Arts is mostly a straight shooter.
Although it calls for just three actors, “Edith,” here helmed by Company One artistic director Shawn LaCount, is not an easy play to stage. Pamatmat, whose “after all the terrible things I do” is being presented concurrently by the Huntington Theatre Company, asks that the characters be portrayed “by young-looking adult actors, not actual teenagers.” And the setting ranges from the Tolentinos’ barn to their living room, Kenny’s car, Benji’s bedroom, a schoolyard, a school library, and an ice-cream parlor. Cristina M. Todesco’s thoughtful design for Company One is built around the rafters of the barn, where Edith perches. A sofa with faded floral upholstery represents the living room, a steering wheel puts us in the car, and everything else falls into place.
Like Pamatmat himself, Kenny and Edith (who’s mostly called Ed or Eddie, as if she were a boy) are Filipino-American. They make the occasional reference to their favorite Filipino dishes, but I wish more of their culture were on display, and it seems odd that they have no racial problems at school. The bigger problem with the play, however, is that though Kenny and Benji, who fall in love, are sweet (if verbally graphic) poster kids for gay romance, “Edith” reads like a TV after-school special with heroes and zeroes. Edith, Kenny, and Benji are all right. Everyone else — from Edith and Kenny’s ludicrously absent physician father to Benji’s hysterically intolerant mother to the kids’ dull, bullying schoolmates — is not.
The cast manages all this with varying degrees of success. Benji, like Kenny, is 16, but his mom still chooses his clothes, and learning to make scrambled eggs is an accomplishment. Eddie Shields plays him as a giggly geek, a broad concept — never more so than when he’s channeling George Michael’s “Faith” — that’s fun to watch. Gideon Bautista is the more resourceful Kenny, who has to hold everything together, and he gives a stand-up interpretation that’s a little stiff in places, notably those where Pamatmat sticks him with platitudes.
Maria Jan Carreon’s Edith not only can shoot, she can sing, warbling “Ein Männlein steht im Walde” from Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera “Hänsel und Gretel” (another work about kids who have to fend for themselves). Carreon is conspiratorially delightful with her giant stuffed frog, Fergie, and driven to defend her turf. At times the performance seems fueled more by anger than anything else; at times, too, it seems that Edith is 16 and the boys are 12.
But right at the end, when Edith comes back from a hospital, the trio’s pervasive scowls are replaced by heartwarming smiles. A few more of those along the way and “Edith” would really hit the mark.Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.