Aswangs Haunt ‘Bloodletting’ at Kirk Douglas


While most people think of Los Angeles as a film and television capital, it is also home to more than 250 theatre companies. As one of the largest, most influential theatre companies in town, Center Theatre Group programs seasons at the Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum in Downtown Los Angeles, and the smaller Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. Last year, they introduced their Block Party opportunity, which offers three smaller companies support to restage a show for a limited run at the Kirk Douglas to gain more exposure.

The first of this year’s Block Party productions at Kirk Douglas, “Bloodletting,” is a Playwrights’ Arena production. “Bloodletting” is a well-acted, at times funny, tale of two Filipino American siblings returning to their father’s homeland to scatter his ashes, but it is haunted and ultimately dragged down by Aswangs.

Aswangs are folkloric evil creatures in Philippine culture like a witch or vampire in the West.  Legend has it that they are physically like humans during daytime, but can change their appearance before coming out at night. Different ethnic groups have different myths about them, but their diet is often recounted as unborn children (by forcing miscarriages) and sick people. In this case, the Aswang myth seems to suck the charm out of “Bloodletting.”

Sibling Snarkiness and Surprises

“Bloodletting” opens with uptight New Yorker Farrah (Myra Cris Ocenar) and overly laid-back Angelino Bosley Legaspi (the play’s author Boni B. Alvarez) seeking shelter during a monsoon at a tiny café on the Philippine island Palawan. The unwelcoming café owner, Jenry Flores (Alberto Issac), and his overly eager-to-please granddaughter LeeLee (Anne Yatco) find the siblings’ bickering about their trip and father (who is described as “mean and manipulative”) uncomfortable yet intriguing. To keep the siblings from tossing the ashes in a sacred river, LeeLee and Jenry relate tales about the area’s aswangs. But, it soon becomes apparent that there are aswangs among them. LeeLee acts strangely. Farrah (who says her “blood is boiling for revenge”) starts envisioning things and zapping her brother with painful twitches. Her confusion over the discovery presents “a lof of sh** to digest” for both of them

The quartet brings their characters to life with believable tension and emotion. Ocenar conveys her anger and angst over her father and his troubling legacy. Yatco is also particularly effective. Credit for establishing the play’s remote tropical setting goes to scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo, who uses a large tree and an open-air café that slides into place for indoor scenes, and sound designer Howard Ho, who simulates realistic rainstorms.

“Bloodletting” will be at Kirk Douglas Theatre through April 8. It will be followed by Critical Mass Performance Group’s “Ameryka” production from April 19 to 29. The Block Party ends with Celebration Theatre’s “Die, Mommie, Die!” which actually appears on Mother’s Day during its May 10 through 20 run. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. Free covered parking with validation is available at Culver City’s City Hall across the street.

By Dyanne Weiss

Performance March 31, 2018
Center Theatre Group
Broadway World: Photo Flash: The Playwrights’ Arena Presents BLOODLETTING
Playwright’s Arena: Bloodletting
AswangProject: What is an aswang?

Photo by Lawrence K. Ho of, left-right, Myra Cris Ocenar, Boni B. Alvarez and Anne Yatco in the Playwrights’ Arena production of “Bloodletting” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, courtesy Center Theatre Group.