Michal Daniel/Mu Performing Arts
Isabella Dawis plays the protective 12-year-old Edith in the Mu Performing Arts production of Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, by Rey Pamatmat.
Edith is "too old to be talking to a stuffed frog and too young to be carrying a gun."
That's how Rey Pamatmat describes the main character — who carries both items — in his play Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them.
Pamatmat's play premiered at the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky last year. Since then, it's been playing at regional theaters around the country.
Edith is an outspoken 12-year-old whose best friend is Fergie, a giant stuffed frog. Pamatmat says writing a 12-year-old character was easy: Growing up, he was surrounded by kids.
"I'm from a Filipino family," Pamatmat says. "You can't go to a family gathering without there being kids around."
Pamatmat says Edith's precociousness is something else he gets from his family, specifically from the women: his mom, two sisters and several aunts.
"I tend to think that Filipino women are very outspoken," says Pamatmat. "But maybe it's just my mother and her family, I don't know. But then May Adrales, who directed the Humana Festival production of the play, is also very outspoken. So maybe Edith is very Filipino."
Adrales, who's also Filipino-American, concedes she probably is on the outspoken side. At her own family gatherings, she says, it's the women who "keep the party afloat."
"Laughing a lot, starting the conversation, cooking, making everybody eat," says Adrales.
Michal Daniel/Mu Performing Arts
Benji (Matthew Cerar, left) moves in with his boyfriend Kenny (Alex Galick) and Edith when his parents kick him out after learning he's gay.
In the play, Edith and her quieter older brother Kenny are latchkey kids growing up in a rural part of middle America. Their mom died and their dad is never home. Edith tries to keep her home afloat, even though she's the youngest.
They're pretty much navigating life alone, except for one other character: Benji. He was kicked out of his house when his parents found out he was gay. He's Kenny's classmate and, more significantly, his first boyfriend.
Benji moves in with Kenny and Edith, and the three kids form a kind of family. Here's where Edith's gun comes in: Like a little soldier, she believes it's her job to protect them. So, with either her gun or a bow and arrow, she boasts that she can shoot and hit stuff. You'll have to see the play to find out if she really does.
Pamatmat partly identifies with Edith.
"I shot a pistol when I was 8 years old," he says — pop guns, too, in the Philippines when he was visiting cousins. Pamatmat grew up in rural Michigan, where he says plenty of kids learn to use weapons. He says he has a lot of things in common with both Edith and Kenny.
"Like being a person of color in Middle America," says Pamatmat. "Like discovering my sexuality, because there were not that many images of gay and lesbian people back then."
Showing those experiences on stage is important to Pamatmat — and to May Adrales, who says that, for her, "seeing Filipino actors onstage and hearing them tell their story is always moving to me."
Adrales and Pamatmat are part of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition. A recent study by the group found that last year just 2 percent of the roles on Broadway and major Off Broadway shows went to Asian American actors.
"You go to shows and everyone in the cast is of the same ethnicity," Pamatmat says, "when in reality, almost all Americans live their life and encounter people of various ethnicities everyday. Whether it's your co-workers or people at the grocery store."
His plays will always have diverse casts, he says, because "that is the way my world actually is."
Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them is playing now at Mu Performing Arts in Minneapolis, and at B Street Theater in Sacramento in May.