BOSTON: A. Rey Pamatmat feels like a bit of a phony. When his play after all the terrible things I do, which explores the aftereffects of bullying, premiered at Milwaukee Repertory Theater last fall, many audience members came up to him and shared their own experiences.
“I feel like such a fraud, because all of these people are coming and telling me this personal stuff,” says the playwright, who confesses to never having been bullied as a gay kid. “I came out in high school,” he says with a shrug and a smile, “and it was fine!”
The truth is that his play, which runs at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company May 22–June 21, doesn’t focus on victims of bullying but instead aims to explore what makes someone become a bully in the first place. In Pamatmat’s research on the subject, one particular case—in which a young gay boy committed suicide as a result of bullying—stood out, as hints in the press coverage of the incident revealed that the boy’s parents didn’t seem to have approved of his sexuality. “The play started with this idea: What is it like to be that boy’s mother?” Pamatmat says.
The play follows a recent college grad who takes a job at a local bookstore owned by a Filipina émigré; tensions heighten when the pair realizes they have more in common than they might think. However, while Pamatmat is Filipino and gay, he doesn’t want people to look at the play and assume it’s his story.
“When you see plays by people of color or by people who are queer, a lot of times the play is about race or about sexuality—but in the stuff I write, it’s not that those elements are ever absent, but that’s just not usually what the play is about. It’s just a significant aspect of the action.”
Pamatmat was worried that Milwaukee audiences wouldn’t be on board, but they were. Now he has a different concern for Boston: Will the over-educated, liberal East Coast audience see these topics as old hat?
Luckily, Boston audiences will have a chance to experience two of Pamatmat’s plays for simultaneous reference—Company One is producing Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them June 4–27 (the two productions are part of a celebration of the playwright’s work between the two companies). Each play demands very different things of the viewer.
“Edith asks the audience to be open and earnest, like the characters are onstage, as they learn to trust each other,” Pamatmat explains. “Conversely, after all the terrible things I do asks them to question what they’re seeing and then to question their own lives—to be suspicious of the stories we all tell.”
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