After 25 years, local theater company Pork Filled Productions now presents a spooky story about two estranged siblings who encounter an aswang, or Filipino vampire, in their quest to spread their newly-departed father’s ashes. Written by Boni B. Alvarez, the play, Bloodletting, runs through the latter half of October into November.
At the heart of this play are complicated sibling relationships.
“I was exploring the idea of forced connections in our lives, like how we have families full of people we may love, but don’t necessarily like,” said Alvarez. “We are forced to deal with their histories and baggage.”
Amidst this process, Alvarez also wanted to explore a return to his ‘motherland,’ the Philippines. Growing up, when Alvarez or his cousins would misbehave, they would be reprimanded with the threat of an aswang visit. The creatures are rumored to have a large presence in the Visayas, especially in Antique, where Alvarez’ parents are originally from.
Alvarez has always found this mythology compelling and frightening. He explained that these aswangs are “basically human,” and are a great way to explore how humans can behave monstrously toward each other, particularly those closest to them, due to their inner demons.
“In Culasi, there was an older lady who lived across the road from my Lola,” he said. “I found out later that she was rumored to be an aswang. My aunties and Lola wanted us to go and pay our respects so that she wouldn’t put a curse on me.”
To help bring this play to fruition, Alvarez and Pork Filled Productions collaborated with director Zenaida Smith, cultural consultant Eloisa Cardona, and assistant dramaturg Anamaria Guerzon.
“This show is the best horror,” said Smith. “It has incredible depth in its exploration of family and community trauma, feeling disconnected from your country of origin, and the pain of Otherness.”
The focus on family and queerness, in particular, drew Smith to direct this play.
“Filipinos have absorbed and endured so many batterings of colonial tides on our culture,” she continued. “There is a powerful bond to family and community, but also an equally powerful fear of rejection by that same family or community.”
In the process, human imaginations can create powerful visuals. Aswangs in Filipino culture have also come to represent lurking fears in the collective subconscious, said Smith. Though they are often depicted as vampires with long, snake-like tongues that suck blood, they can also take form as flying monsters who eat unborn babies, their bodies split at the torso.
But Smith is inspired by the hope that ultimately arises in Bloodletting. “This play hones in on those cycles of hurt and how they can be broken, allowing the Self to flourish,” she said.
As director, Smith is supported by a strong team.
“As the Assistant Dramaturg, I am the Myth Consultant for this production,” said Guerzon, also an understudy for actors in the production. “As a Pinay person myself, I was not raised with these legends, and was fascinated by the rich history of that folklore.”
Through her work, Guerzon has learned how deeply rooted aswangs are in Filipino history. She explained that more than 80% of Filipino natives believe in their existence, and that the legend was used throughout the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, weaponized against rebels to silence and suppress them from uprising.
Bloodletting’s actors include Matt Dela Cruz, who plays the role of the brother Bosley.
“Being Filipino American and an openly gay man myself, just like Bosley, I find having these similarities to him very empowering and scary at the same time, since I’ve never played a Filipino American gay character before,” he said. “I approach this role in the most authentic way possible, using these honest and vulnerable experiences of mine.”
The rehearsal process has been very positive, said Dela Cruz, who immediately felt safe to express his sentiments on who his character was with ease and care. It’s this sense of safety, created amongst all of the production’s artists, that enabled him to relate to Boseley by exploring his own personal experiences, which, he said, will be important to his ultimate performance.
“I am full of fear because the very vulnerable moments that Bosley goes through in this play relate to very vulnerable experiences that I’ve gone through myself,” he said. “ I tend to play more comedic roles, so delving into a side of me that rarely gets shown is something that I’m fearful of.”
Director Smith encourages the audience to take a similar journey from fear to connection.
“This play exposes the grayness of monstrosity, and I hope encourages audience members to question their biases and assumptions as they look outward, even against the people closest to them,” she said.“I hope it opens a door for the audience into exploring the richness of Filipino folklore.”
‘Bloodletting’ runs from October 19 to November 4 at Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Avenue South, Seattle.