by Dale Reynolds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 13, 2017


Philippine-American playwright Boni B. Alvarez's latest drama, "Bloodletting," is an out of this world examination of a Philippine myth about Aswangs, witches of either gender and any age.

In his plot, squabbling brother and sister, Bosley Legazpi (writer Alvarez) and Farrah Legaspi (Myra Cris Ocenar), have just arrived from America to their homeland on the island of Palawan, carrying their late father's ashes.

Having landed late at night, with no hotel to stay in, the duo stumble into a small native eatery, The Princess Cafť, run by the proprietor, Jenry Flores (Alberto Isaac), who doesn't want to help them, and his beautiful daughter, LeeLee (Evie Abat, already replaced by Anne Yatco), who convinces him to let them stay, at least until the rains let up. It is then that Bosley and Farrah discover that not only is LeeLee a local Aswang but, so it is revealed, unbeknownst to everyone, Farrah herself is an Aswang.

Bosley, morbidly-obese and gay, squabbles incessantly with his slightly older sister, with old enmities between them breaking out afresh. And when Farrah learns what these hidden powers are, she is confronted with the age-old problem of how to use them in ways good for humanity, or not.

Alvarez has a gift for situation, character, and dialogue, as well as acting: Bosley's insistence in recounting how badly their father treated him -- he thinks because as a gay boy he was a disappointment to the old man -- but it turns out that the father favored his daughter because he recognized her latent talents as an Aswang.

We learn much about the supernatural mythology of the Pacific Islanders and its influence on Philippine culture, as well as how strangers can learn from each other in ways mostly hidden to the unaware. The humor in it is organic and the sound-design of Howard Ho, on Christopher Scott Murillo's attractive thatched-roof hut and surrounding jungle, becomes a character unto itself.

This is a surprisingly agile play and production, helped enormously by Jon Lawrence Rivera's astute direction, moving quickly along its 85-minute length. There's humor, terrific acting from the quartet, and it all looks and sounds fine. We're given a nice, non-academic, fascinating learning curve about some other culture's supernatural beliefs. And a lot of fun to be had out of it, too.

"Bloodletting" plays through January 29 at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, 90039. For tickets or information, call 800-838-3006 or visit www.bloodletting/