“Edith can shoot things and hit them,” says Edith’s big brother, Kenny, in A. Rey Pamatmat’s touching drama of the same name. But clearly, she shouldn’t.
The coming-of-age-under-dire-circumstances play, which premiered in 2012, is receiving a luminous production by Crowded Fire Theater under the assured and sensitive direction of Desdemona Chiang.
The Filipino-American siblings, 12-year-old Edith (a winsome Nicole Javier) and 16-year-old Kenny (a sweet, earnestly convincing Wes Gabrillo), have been virtually abandoned by their father on the family farm. Dad is either always at work or else at his girlfriend’s house. He tends to forget to put money in the bank account for the kids. Mom is dead.
Lonely, precocious Edith carries on conversations with, and takes comfort from, her large and grimy stuffed frog, an effect that could be cloying but somehow is not. Musically gifted, she takes voice lessons and is preparing for a solo recital. She is also in possession of an air rifle loaded with BBs. She sees it as her responsibility to protect her brother and their territory. For his part, Kenny is struggling to keep his sister safe and in school, a job that’s too stressful for a kid. A whiz at math who knows the secret to Rubik’s cubes, he says plaintively, of the responsibilities he takes so seriously, “I’m not programmed for this.”
He’s supported emotionally by his first-ever lover, his “pre-calc” classmate Benji (a bespectacled Maro Guevara, in a wonderfully straightforward, gawky portrayal). The overprotected Benji, accustomed to being served a glass of milk at bedtime by his mother, is baffled by the siblings’ self-sufficiency. “I didn’t know people could do stuff,” he marvels.
It’s easy to fall in love with this trio of vulnerable, needy and tough-minded kids, so beautifully played by these three young adults. (Javier doesn’t look remotely 12 years old but plays Edith with such engaging and uncutesy bravado that you’re liable to suspend disbelief most of the time.)
Playwright Pamatmat spends a little too much time in Act 1 on Kenny and Benji’s discovery of their sexuality — it’s not really the focus of his play and feels self-indulgent—and in Act 2 is a little too explicit in revealing what it means to learn to take care of yourself while maintaining your deepest compassion for others.
But those are minor complaints, and Crowded Fire’s production is irresistibly charming.
Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them
Presented by Crowded Fire Theater
Where: Thick House, 1695 18th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, closes March 21
Tickets: $15 to $35
Contact: (415) 746-9238, www.crowdedfire.org