Reviewed by Vanessa Cate
Through January 29
A brother and sister travel from the United States to the Philippines in order to lay the ashes of their departed father to rest. Farrah (Myra Cris Ocenar) is a Type-A personality, and is always hard on her brother Bosley (Boni B. Alvarez, who also wrote the piece). Their arrival is fraught with difficulty, as rain is pouring down heavily and they can only take shelter inside Princess Café, a one-table restaurant that takes up the living room of a small hatched home where Jenry (Alberto Isaac) and his granddaughter LeeLee (Evie Abat) reside.
There is immediate tension and fatigue from all sides. Jenry is even reluctant to let the two bickering foreigners into his café at all. But LeeLee’s enthusiasm sways him. And so, perhaps trapped by the elements, the four try to make the most of the situation by eating and drinking.
Bloodletting delves into the world of the Aswang, a mythical being believed to hold great powers while needing to satiate a terrible hunger — most commonly sated by devouring unborn babies. Although Farrah and Bosley have been raised with the knowledge and fear of the Aswang, they scoff at the implication of their existence — at first. But over the course of the evening, some truths come to light that they would rather not face.
Alvarez does a fine job of crafting a delicate script that, once it gets rolling, nicely explores not only the fantastical Aswang, but its implications in the real world. Embracing who you are, even if you are feared or shunned for it, may well grant you new power — a helpful message for anyone who has had to come out about aspects of their identity.
Bloodletting could have merely been a fun and flighty supernatural play; instead, it takes on difficult moral themes, and presents the audience with truly relatable moments. Farrah is emotionally abusive and constantly gaslights her brother, while Bosley — either despite or because of his sweetness — is always getting trampled on. Each must make a different decision in order to turn a corner and move on in their lives.
Jon Lawrence Rivera does a fine job of directing. Christopher Scott Murillo’s set design, coupled with Howard Ho’s subtle yet essential sound design, transport us to the Philippines. And the small ensemble does a nice job of bringing this haunting and empowering piece to life.
Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Mon., 7 p.m.; through January 29. www.bloodlettingEXT.brownpapertickets.com; Running time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.