“When I write about ethnicity, I try to do it from the inside,” playwright A. Rey Pamatmat said in an interview with American Theatre Magazine. “I think that it’s more interesting if the audience steps into your shoes.”
Over two weekends, the Fort Lewis College Theatre Department is making it possible to step into Pamatmat’s shoes by staging one of his most frequently produced plays. “Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them” will be available online Nov. 27, 28, 29 and Dec. 3, 4 and 5. The FLC theater website will guide you to a streaming link, and once premiered, the play will be available for viewing during the play dates.
“Last year, before COVID changed our lives, we started looking for a play that fit into our departmental theme of diversity and inclusion,” said Director Theresa Carson. “We had a committee made up of staff and students, and we read through about 20 plays. Since we’re planning on doing a big musical in the spring (“A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime”), we wanted a smaller play with simpler production requirements.”
“Edith” falls into the general framework of American Realism, Carson said, and is a coming-of-age story set in the present. It centers on three young people: Edith, 12, (Corrina Shoemaker Shure, a freshman theatre major from El Rito, New Mexico); her teenage brother, Kenny (Kiedis Begaye, a theater major from Phoenix); and his friend, Benji (Gustavo Palma, a senior theater major from Pagosa Springs).
In the throes of adolescent transitions, the three youngsters live in a remote and rustic setting without any parental guidance. Like figures from a fairy tale, they have been abandoned by adults and must fend for themselves. They take care of each other, make up rules and become a family of their own. Complications arise and so do consequences.
Since its 2011 premiere at the Humana Festival for New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky, “Edith” has had a meteoric rise. The play immediately had a rolling series of premieres starting with the New Theatre in Miami, Actor’s Express in Atlanta and Mu Performing Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In interviews, Pamatmat (pronounced Pah MAHT mat) has been surprised by the play’s popularity. It’s partly based on his life growing up in rural Michigan in a broken home and coming out in high school. Issues of race and ethnicity weave through the young people’s efforts to navigate their lives, and sexual awakening is a dominant thread – one reason the college has labeled the production as mature in content.
What seems to preoccupy Carson more, however, are COVID-19 protocols.
“We rehearsed in the Theatre Building following very strict protocols,” she said. “Everyone was tested for COVID regularly. Everyone wore masks, including the crew. We all stayed at least 6 feet apart. All set pieces and props were cleaned thoroughly before and after each rehearsal.
“When we filmed outdoors, we followed the same rules, even one scene in a car. Only one actor could be in the car at a time. I kept the rehearsals to afternoons, not evenings. And, although very different, and very stressful, I think it was a great experience for the students – all of us.”
Carson said final filming took place in mid-October, and it took four weeks to edit.
“I’m really proud of it, the whole project,” she said. “These are bizarre times.”
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.