Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bloodletting (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I was invited "blind" to see the play Bloodletting by the Playwrights Arena.  I looked at the cover image on the program and said "Wow, that looks like an aswang."  For those who don't know, an aswang is a kind of shape-shifting vampire witch, part of Filipino folklore and legends, as well as very prevalent in their cinema.  The set certainly looked like it might be in the Philippines.  I was excited!

By the end I was more than excited.  Because while a nice vampire story in a different culture (which this certainly proved to be) would have left me happy, Bloodletting took that up a notch.  I adore when mythology becomes what it truly is meant as--a metaphor for essential truths, for life.

Which is what I got!

New York actress Farah Legazpi (Myra Cris Ocenar) and her Los Angeles brother Bosley Legazpi (Boni B. Alvarez) arrive one night outside a small cafe in the Philippines, where their parents came from but they haven't been since childhood.  Bickering with long practice, the two seek shelter in the storm.  Jenry Flores (Alberto Isaac) doesn't want to take them in at this late hour, but his granddaughter Leelee (Evie Abat) insists.  She takes one look at Farah and reacts with glee, recognizing her from a t.v. show.

Anyone recognizing the most basic vampire trope of travelers stranded in a foreign land due to storms won't be far wrong.  Honestly, as a fan of the genre, I really enjoyed how the playwright--Alvarez--reinvented tropes.  But that was later.  I ended up far too caught up in the story.

Sister and brother are on a mission, to spread their father's ashes.  Clearly they do not get along, not least because their father disliked Bosley and Farah pretty much agreed.  They both see him as weak in many ways.  Nor do they seem completely wrong.  Yet these tensions steadily crank up as the Weird makes itself known.  Farah goes outside to have a cigarette, and somehow manages to, despite the rain.  Jenry insists Bosley buy a charm to protect himself from aswangs.  Bosley remembers those from terrifying stories their mother told them as children. Meanwhile, in the night Leelee approaches Farah, urging her to look into the moon, to see things there as she does.  Eventually, Farah does--to her horror.  Not least because Leelee claims she herself is an Aswang, and so is Farah.  She can tell!

This could so easily have been played for just spooky horror and fun.  And I would have liked that!  What I got instead was humor laced with pathos and human drama--which I liked a lot more!

Sibling rivalry erupts, as the real passions and jealousies emerge.  Hence the title, really.  When we bleed, we tell the truth.  So the metaphor goes.  Like most people, Farah and Bosley don't want to face the truth.  Yet there beside them are Jenry and Leelee, who've managed to face their own, equally painful truths.  About the light and darkness in us all, and how we don't always feel the way we "should" feel.  More, we simply and hurtfully rarely emerge as what we think we are.

Much of the drama simply (and profoundly) comes from gnawing at old wounds, none really healed as it turns out.  Well, of course not.  Leelee and Jenry remember her mother's murder, echoing how Bosley and Farah each reacted to their father's slow death--he ignoring his son, then passing on his nature to an unknowing daughter (legend says the power of an aswang must be passed by mouth to a chosen heir).  Each looks upon themselves, to weep and maybe learn, or start to learn.  Because after all, if creatures such as Aswangs do exist, isn't that reason to question...well, everything?

Bloodletting plays Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm and Mondays at 7pm until November 27, 2016 at the Atwater Village Theatre 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90039.

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