For the Halloween season, Flying V Theatre put on an original production titled Monstress, written by navi, artistic lead for the company’s R&D wing, and directed by Kelly Colburn, artistic lead for the theater wing. The one-act immersive horror experience takes you to the Zoe Foundation facility where a docile Manananggal is held in captivity. The Manananggal is a vampire-adjacent mythical creature from the Philippines — with fangs, wings, and a long proboscis-style tongue — able to separate its upper torso from the lower part of its body and feed on humans.
Zoe Foundation employee Eloise, played by Dom Ocampo, guides the audience on a tour through the facility, explaining the history of the company and Manananggal lore. Plastic vines are strewn about, and jungle music plays in the background as we are led down a hall — with pictures and articles about Manananggal sightings, studies, and findings — until we reach an entryway to the feeding room.
The room contained a caged enclosure replicating the creature’s natural habitat, as you would see at the zoo, with tiered seats on three sides and headphones on each chair for the full experience. Mounted TV screens play an intro from the Zoe Foundation hosted by Dr. Angelo Ramos (Sally Imbriano). Dr. Ramos mentions legislation called Nat 2 that has to do with the use of aborted and miscarried fetuses and encourages support for this “necessary” work.
This part of the show was a little unclear to me. The pre-recorded message mentioned the overturning of Roe v. Wade and had a very political vibe, but I couldn’t understand the intended message. I gathered that the Foundation used these ”unwanted” children as food for the Manananggal, who we later learned would feed off of underdeveloped, unviable, or unsupportable pregnancies as a welcome part of society, until men made their feeding illegal and the creatures were forced to become the frightening hunters they are today. I appreciated the acknowledgment that the Zoe Foundation, in its capture and treatment of the creature, showed them to be just as, if not more, villainous as the monstress itself. But I wanted more information and history of the Foundation’s beginnings. Perhaps this sparking of interest was the intended effect.
Janine Baumgardner plays The Manananggal with beautiful physicality and dance-like movement. When the drugged mist that is pumped into the enclosure to keep the creature tame fails, The Manananggal refuses the infant that Eloise has brought for the feeding and instead turns on her captor. Baumgardner moves about the cage fluidly, hopping on the top of a post like a perched bird, and then crawling down on all fours toward Eloise, wonderfully replicating the animalistic mannerism of an intelligent predator.
Monstress began as a collaborative idea in 2021, and the first chapter, which is accessible on YouTube, is an animated short, released in the winter of 2022, of young Eloise going to see the Manananggal exhibit as an inspector of the Zoe Foundation (see below). This timeline encourages me to believe that more details will be fleshed out in the future.
The story has great potential and felt like the beginning of something more. With the history of the Manananggal being turned into demons by the limits and restrictions of men, coupled with the undefined positioning on bodily autonomy and overturning of Roe v. Wade, there is so much room for development. Flying V Theatre’s Monstress was an interesting experience, and I would like to see the project evolve. The originality of the tale and format of the piece was intriguing, and I hope there is more to come.
Running Time: Approximately 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Monstress played October 19 to 28, 2023, presented by Flying V Theatre performing at the Silver Spring Black Box located at 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. For information about future Flying V performances, visit flyingvtheatre.com.
Janine Baumgardner – The Manananggal; Dom Ocampo – Eloise; Sally Imbriano – Dr. Angelo Ramos
Kristin Geatz Temple – Production Manager; Kelly Colburn – Director/Show Runner; Denisse Penaflor – Assistant Director; Jazzy Davis – Stage Manager; Sophia Menconi – Assistant Stage Manager; Jeanette Christensen – Costume/Makeup Designer; Kristina Manente – Sound Designer; Gordon Nimmo-Smith – Associate Sound Designer/Sound Engineer; Katherine Offutt – Special Effects; Patti Kalil – Scenic/Atmospheric Design; Willow McFatter – Technical Director; Hailey LaRow – Lighting Design; Grace Guarniere – Properties & Exhibition Designer; Sora Reyes – Video Designer/Video Engineer; Ileana Blustein – Accessibility; navi – Writer
Through storytelling and shared leadership, Flying V makes safe space for nerds (A Companies We Keep feature by Lisa Traiger, November 15, 2022)