The Atwater Village theatre complex in the heart of town is one of my favorite little theatre spots. The companies that perform here are trendsetters that continuously turn out content, styles and idea that push the norms of theatre. The complex exists in a very residential area, with houses and apartments facing the theaters on the opposite side of the generally quiet street. For some reason this always makes me feel like I'm visiting a little theatre town/residency/village, which would pretty much be my dream.
This Saturday I was grateful to have an opportunity to catch a performance of Bloodletting by Boni B. Alvarez. Put up by Playwrights Arena, a champion of new works, diversity within content and the Los Angeles playwright, this extended run originally performed at the Skylight Theatre is now playing at the Atwater Village Theatre. What I knew going in: the show took place in the Philippines, the run had been extended, it was now Ovation recommended.
Bloodletting tells the story of Farrah and Bosley Legazpi (played by Myra Cris Ocenar and Boni B. Alvarez), a brother and sister who venture to the Philippines to scatter their father's ashes in an ancient underground river. When a severe rainstorm ceases all airport traffic, the two happen upon the closest "safest" place, a bed and breakfast of sorts run by Jenry Flores (Alberto Isaac) and his granddaughter LeeLee (Anne Yatco). As the storm rages on, mysteries of their father and extended ancestry slowly begin to unfold. Farrah begrudgingly surrenders that she just might possibly be an aswang, an individual with magical powers that can be used for good, but may be instigated by taboo practice considered violent by a traditional society. LeeLee helps Farrah to cope with the magic she has inherited, giving her a historical account of aswangs on the islands as well as some family stories, some heartwarming, some bloodcurdling. Farrah must then decide if she will chose to deny it all or accept and learn to control her power. (I bet you can guess what favorite line from the Spiderman films I want to mention.) Meanwhile, Jenry gives Bosley stories, strategies and coping mechanisms for living with aswang loved ones.
Stylistically, this show was not my favorite, but there were aspects of it that I did like. I'm not really a big fan of the whole magical realism genre. Although I appreciated the cultural folklore, I was more interested in the fascinating cultural differences in communication, relationships and daily ritual. As someone very unfamiliar with this dialect, I thought the language and accents sounded beautiful and I loved listening to Jenry and LeeLee speak to their Americanized guests. The fully realized set really brought me into the thick, wet jungle of the Philippines and Jenry's traditional bamboo hut style home. I liked Farrah and Bosley's family dynamic and differences as brother and sister, I just kind of lost interest in the whole aswang conflict. Which could totally be me, the magical element just messed with my suspension of disbelief and kind of got me out of it at times. I felt like there was more potential for me to get even more freaked out by the context and the danger that was looming in their situation.
What did the show make me want to change about myself? To be honest, if you asked me right when I walked out of the theater I would have said "not much." But looking back on my notes, now I would probably say that it would make me ask more of my family about our history (which I actually have been doing more often since the holidays) and also to check in with my family more frequently and informally. We do take our families for granted, and it's not until they have passed on that the questions we have always wanted to ask them find the words in our minds to be asked. I also began to think about how much our families know about us, and when people outside our families know more about us than the people we are supposed to be closest with.
This was not my personal favorite show. However, I enjoyed enough of it artistically that I absolutely look forward to supporting more Playwrights Arena productions in the future. You can catch Bloodletting at the Atwater Village Theatre now through January 29th.