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Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them

By A.Rey Pamatmat

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays @7:30 PM, Sunday matinee @2:00 PM. Approximately 2 hours with one intermission.

RECOMMENDED AGE: 13 and up, due to some mature subject matter.

After being all but abandoned by their widower father, Filipino teenagers Edith and Kenny form a latchkey family that becomes all the more unconventional when Kenny develops romantic feelings for his classmate, Benji. The strength of their fragile bond is challenged as the adult world conspires to pull the three apart. 

Directed by David Gassner, featuring Jose Abaoag, Sara L.Porkalob, and Tim Smith-Stewart.

With such an inspiring play guaranteed to touch a broad spectrum of the community, SPT is planning two lively and insightful post-show discussions involving the Edith cast and crew along with representatives from both the Filipino Community of Seattle (FCS) as well as the young writers from Edmond’s Scriber Lake High School who shared their personal struggles in the book, We Are Absolutely Not Okay: Fourteen Stories By Teenagers Who are Picking Up the Pieces.

Sunday, April 7th 2013 following the 2PM matinee: featuring the young writers from Scriber Lake High School's We are Absolutely Not Okay Project; Sunday, April 14th, 2013 following 2pm matinee: Mr. Victor Flores (FCS Executive Director); Ms. Agnes Garcia (FCS Arts and Culture Coordinator) and Mr. Bob Flor (FCS Artistic Director).

Backstage @ SPT Newsletter
Extended Web Version

An interview with Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them actors
Jose Abaoag & Sara L.Porkalob
By Cole Hornaday, SPT Communication and PR Manager

Q: What excites you about doing this play?
Sara: You rarely see plays about children in an adult context. As an adult it has been fascinating to go back to that mindset and think about what it was like then—the worries and the stresses, and then to have to put it in the context of not being an adult any more where things don’t make sense. Now I’m a child, and my imagination takes over and things are so much scarier. And also, just playing a Filipino role. Even though it doesn’t seem that integral to the script itself, I think it plays a lot into the experience.
Jose: I love how it’s there and it’s not there. The playwright is Filipino, but he’s written the kind of play that’s very good on its own, the characters just happen to be Filipino. There’s no obvious or stereotype Filipino element here, like a wooden fork in the kitchen or somebody doing the stick dance. This playwright grew up in Michigan, but he’s a true Asian American. I also love the first scene where the two young homosexual men explore where they are going with their’s amazing. You could put two straight people there and it would still be the same lovely little scene about two people getting together. I love that. It’s just two people and it’s beautiful in how they are trying to fumble their way through it as teenagers and trying to figure it all out.
Q: Playwright A. Rey Pamatmat specifies that adult actors must play these characters. What is that like, assuming the identity of a much younger person? Why do you suppose the playwright made that choice?
Jose: We’ve been talking about this a lot in rehearsal with
David Gassner, the director. He was saying that it is written very cinematically but it would probably fall flat if you were to do this on film with real teenagers. It would just be kind of uninteresting. But since we are asking adults to go back and interpret the complexity of that childhood experience it becomes more alive. You have adults playing kids trying to be adults. It’s a nice little challenge.
Sara: It’s really true. Adults feel inclined to protect children from a world they don’t understand when, in fact, children have a huge capacity for understanding and, unlike adults, they are at a point in their maturity where they don’t have these social filters in place to determine what is wrong and what is bad. The fact is, for a kid, everything just is and they don’t feel the need to question all of the time like we do as adults. It’s very freeing. I was really scared taking on this part. I thought it was going to be a huge challenge. I didn’t want to play at being a child. What I discovered is that I simply needed to move from my head to my heart. Instead of analyzing, trying to work out the logic of stuff, I figured out that it just is—this is the world I’m living in and I’m just reacting to it. It’s very exciting.
Jose: I love how all of the adults in the play are kind of off base. They come in with their rules but their rules don’t work for these particular kids. The kids are adapting and surviving—doing what the adults cannot do and are incapable of doing. These kids are surviving, they’re making the right choices and they are also making these observations about the adults that are completely true and right on. The adults don’t have the courage to answer to those challenges and the kids call them out on it through their journey—but they call themselves out on it as well. They’re smart kids and I love how they go about teaching one another how to survive.
Q: What have you two discovered in playing brother and sister together?

Sara: I don’t have any siblings. I am an only child. I was raised by lesbian mothers, my biological mom and her partner. So, I always had a very strong community...

Jose: That’s why you’re so cool!

Sara: Thanks!
I was raised in a very liberal community, but I wanted brothers and sisters so bad. I have cousins I am very close to and I can grasp fiercely caring about someone so much that if they were to be torn away from you it would do physical and traumatic damage. That there is someone closer to you than any other and understands you in a way possibly better than your parents can because you came from the same womb is magical. You share the same trials and tribulations and they are part of you. For my character Edith, that is really where her stakes are. Without Kenny she’s nothing. Her mother is dead and she accepts that and her father is not coming home anytime soon. She wants him to, but he’s not. Kenny is the one; he’s her reason for living.

Jose: I am actually the youngest sibling in my family; it’s just my sister and me. It’s just so fun to play her now. To be able to bring in an authority that I’ve always wanted--that’s kind of nice to feel what that’s like. Also, I love how in the play Edith’s character is much smarter and courageous than her older brother. He’s already kind of going through that adolescent shut down, secretive process and she’s calling him on it. Kenny is saying, “you need to be more like me,” and all the while he knows that he needs to be more like Edith.

Q: This play meditates a great deal on the nature of family. Do you feel that it speaks adequately to the Filipino-American experience?

Jose: There is a strong Catholic line that happens to Filipino families, you see something similar in Muslim families—growing up, a lot of kids around me had parents who didn’t get divorced and mine did. So I know this kind of struggle, of trying to work that out. My parents divorced as I was leaving high school, but they were on their way before. This story is essentially universal--it is about kids just trying to survive thanks to their parents being out of the picture, but there is something culturally unique with the father in this story. I had a similar struggle with my father--getting him to emote while watching him become this kind of distant father, this absentee father. It’s not an exclusively Filipino thing, but it happens in our culture and when it does its very accurate in how Pamatmat writes this.

Sara: I think there is this huge thing in the play that Kenny does in that he defends his father. I think that’s a very Filipino thing. You know within your own family you can bitch at each other, beat each other up, but as soon as somebody else criticizes them you are on the defense. It’s like, “You do not talk about my family--I will stand up for my family no matter what!” There is this fierce familial obligation and pride that I think oftentimes can get in the way of a generational relationship. You want to honor your parents because that’s what you were taught. But if you divert from what they think you should do or vice versa, it creates this really weird tension. It’s like, “I want to honor you, but I have to be my own person.”

I can personally identify with this story because my mother was the eldest of five. When my grandmother came to the states she didn’t speak the language but had to support her family. My mom took on the role of parent and raised her four siblings.

In my childhood I heard many stories of the hardships that my mother and her siblings had to go through. When they would run out of food, my uncles, at the ages 9 and 5, borrowed their next-door neighbor’s Boy Scout uniforms and went over to the next neighborhood. They collected canned goods for a donation drive, but then brought that food home so they could feed their siblings.

Jose: That’s true. The oldest one shoulders the family burden and that’s distinctly Filipino. The play is set in the Midwest so there is not a lot cultural context, but that kind of assumption, how the father leaves it all to Kenny and tells him he has to handle it and Kenny agrees to it--defending the tradition, defending his father, that is distinctly Filipino.

Sara: There’s no way you can say “no” to that type of responsibility when it falls to you. You just can’t.

Jose: That was my sister.

Sara: That was my mom.

Q: The play is set in the 90’s. Why do you think that is relevant, why not simply set it in 2013?

Sara: I think the time period really plays into the relationship between Benji (Tim Smith-Stewart) and Kenny. They are these two young males in a semi-rural Midwest. Not to spit out a generalization, but it’s common knowledge that in urban societies or communities gay education was a little bit more prevalent. In the early 90’s with AIDS and HIV there still was more fear than education in less urban areas—people like these two young men must have been frightened out of their wits. They’re experiencing these things and they don’t have anybody to turn to. They have to figure it out themselves, by themselves and setting the play in that time makes the subject of the play so much more immediate and relevant.

Jose: And here we are--this is Seattle and it’s 2013 and we forget…especially this year with the passing of Gay Marriage in our state. During that time you have the Clinton Administration and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We didn’t have the television shows that are pushing the goal posts like they are now. So that’s why the 90’s are relevant, there were so few cultural references for these kids.

I remember growing up during that time in the Southern Californian suburbs and hearing phrases like, “That’s so gay,” and the other “F-word,” were pretty common. Now you hear that in schools and immediately there is a teacher or someone intervening.

Sara: Growing up with parents who were lesbians and very open with me, I used to get in fights on the playground. I had uncles and a large family who was very supportive of me, but going to school and having to deal with these ignorant little kids in first and second grade tough for me. I would get into fights because it was just like, “What? You can’t say that!” They didn’t know any better…so I used to beat them up. My parents would get called in and say, “We’ll tell her not to do it again,” and then at home would say, “Good job for standing up, but no more hitting people!”

Jose: See, you’re even told by your parents that the world is one way, but we have our own way.

Q: We never see adults in this play. They are literally, and figuratively, shadow figures. Why do you suppose that is?

Sara: They don’t belong in this world. At least, that’s how I feel from Edith’s perspective.

Jose: In rehearsal we have been talking about their presence and the terror of being found out—it’s all very boogieman-like. The characters must make sure they’re keeping watch, keeping one another safe. Against what? Adults. Clean the house. Why? Because someone will notice if there is a mess and call Child Protective Services and they will come and take you away.

The characters sneak around teachers and thwart authority. Kenny talks back to his math teacher, but tries to talk back to his dad and fails. Adults are these ominous figures. They don’t belong in these characters’ world. The characters create a shelter and try to protect it but there is no escaping that fear and that tension of being a latchkey kid. The fear of screwing up is constantly there.

Q: What do you hope SPT audiences will get out of this play?

Sara: I hope they walk away with a newfound respect or even a remembrance of a child’s mind and that from a young age we need to nurture and educate them—they’re sponges. They are the generation that will create the world after us. That, in fact, they are products of their society and we comprise that society so everything we do affects them. I hope, too, that audiences take away an appreciation for family and I mean not just the people blood-related to you but your friends, the people you choose to make up your community and just to remember to honor them and respect them and love them. If you had no one to love and no one to love you, what would your life be like? It’s like you have no color in your life.

Jose: I would say a respect for outcasts. They always survive and they always find a way and this play is such a testament to that. Even when you have nothing, make that your own. Make it up from nothing. And, we always have each other. Outcasts always band together. The world is screwed up, but they find a way to make it their own. Also, I hope they take away a respect for teenagers. We impose so many rules and try to keep young people safe all of the time but that won’t always work. There is this subtle gun thing through the play and a chance of shooting an adult. Essentially, other than that incident, the kids are doing just fine. It’s the adults that are constantly misjudging what they should be doing. I hope audiences see this and take away a respect for teenagers and youth in general. They are more creative and more mature than we give them credit.

The playwright has written such a subtle relationship between these two teenagers. In many ways, it’s irrelevant that they are gay. They are two people clinging to whatever references they can when it comes to figuring out what they are and how to love each other. They eventually succeed. I love that and I hope that whatever your position is, at least you’ll see them all as people trying to find answers for themselves and love each other while they are at it.

"...sends the riches of good dramatic writing and good theater craft right into our laps ."
-Indy Week
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