A Filipino-American brother and sister’s pilgrimage to their recently deceased father’s birthplace takes a supernatural turn in Boni B. Alvarez’s Bloodletting, a Playwrights’ Arena World Premiere that could appeal to fans of the occult who don’t mind spending seventy-five minutes with a couple of rather obnoxious siblings.
Squabbling 30somethings Farrah and Bosley Legazpi (Myra Cris Ocenar and playwright Alvarez) have arrived late one tropical-stormy night at the Princess Café in the island village of Puerto Princesa only to be informed by the café’s suspicious owner Jenry (Alberto Isaac) that the Princess is closed, meaning that they’ll have to fend for themselves till the next hotel shuttle arrives heaven only knows when.
Fortunately for the justifiably frustrated duo, Jenry’s teenage daughter LeeLee (Evie Abat) recognizes TV actress Farrah from her role as bailiff on the Judge Jimmy Show and convinces Daddy not only to let the siblings stay but to serve them up some Filipino eats along with shots of local rum.
Brother and sister soon disclose their plans to deposit Dad’s ashes in Sabang’s Underground River assuming they can find a way to make the two-hour journey along rain-muddied roads (and provided that the painfully obese Bosley can get over his latest bout of intestinal disorders).
Perhaps the “protective powers” of one of Jenry’s handmade beaded bracelets can offer Bosley some relief. At the very least, for a mere two hundred pesos it will offer protection against aswangs, bloodthirsty Filipino spirits who may reside closer to home than either Bosley or his sister could ever have imagined.
Howard Ho’s spectacular sound design, a nonstop cacophony of rain and thunder and supernatural effects spiced by Ho’s otherworldly original music go a long way towards suspension of disbelief at Bloodletting’s aswang-among-us conceit, and never more so that when electric-shock sound jolts punctuate Bosley’s (and later others’) aches and pains, suggesting black magic at work.
Still, for those like this reviewer who’ve never found much appeal in fantasy fiction (whether Harry Potter or Lords Of The Ring or any others of their ilk), Bloodletting may not be their cup of salabat tea.
It doesn’t help that Alvarez’s sibling protagonists spend most of the play either whining about their homophobic dad or bitching about Bosley’s near constant need to vomit or defecate, or that their hosts, while quaint, aren’t that much more likable than their guests.
Scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo’s picturesque bamboo café, Lily Bartenstein’s dramatic lighting, and Mylette Nora’s character-and-setting-appropriate costumes are all production design winners.
Fight director Edgar Landa and dialect coach Minerva Vier score high marks as well.
Bloodletting is produced by Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx. Luis Alfaro is dramaturg. Casting is by Raul Clayton Staggs. John Freeland Jr. is stage manager.
If Filipino witchcraft strikes your fancy, the latest from Playwrights’ Arena might be worth giving a try. If, on the other hand, sorcery, even at tropical temps, leaves you cold, you might want to wait for Playwrights’ Arena’s next.
Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village.
January 9, 2017
Photos: Playwrights’ Arena