The nosebleed at the Lincoln Center Theater. Making Amends for a Long-Dead Father, Revisited. – New York Theater

“Who here loves their father? Who here hates their father?” Aya always asks the audience for a show of hands and then voluntarily says, “I hated my father.”

Aya Ogawa’s The Nosebleed at Lincoln Center Theater is essentially the same offbeat, intimate autobiographical play I saw at Japan Society ten months ago, but I noticed a difference that changed my reaction to it.

Still focusing on Ogawa’s long-dead father and their failed relationship, the play tells the story in a quirky and inventive way. Aya Ogawa, a Tokyo-born, Brooklyn-based playwright, director, performer, and translator uses the pronouns she/they, which is appropriate in this play, as Aya is portrayed by four performers (three of whom are the same as in the previous production.) Ogawa is also in the cast, but she doesn’t portray herself. Rather, she is either her five-year-old son Kenya (he’s the one with a nosebleed) or her father (who usually has his back to the audience and Aya over his desk is bent.

“I was 33 years old when my father died,” tells us Aya 4 (Drae Campbell). “And in those 33 years that our time on this planet overlapped, we had two conversations.” Neither of them are heartwarming, but neither are they evil — their currency was money, not love — as we then witness the Encounters are mainly played by Aya 1 (Ashil Lee) and Ogawa with support from the other Ayas (Aya 3, Saori Tsukada, sometimes portrays Mama.)

At his death, Aya repaid his emotional neglect by not holding a funeral or memorial service and not filing an obituary with the local newspaper.

The playwright involves the audience directly in the strained father-child relationship and their efforts to make amends. (Don’t worry, audience participation is entirely voluntary.) This leads to a final scene, a sort of closing ritual that’s solemn and surreal and fun, involving both Buddhist burial practices and Princess Diana.

It’s important to point out how far Ogawa goes to make the show feel loose and the audience comfortable. At one point, two of the Ayas perform an episode of The Bachelorette that turns out to be relevant (they talk about their dads) but sets a comical tone. The Nosebleed begins with each performer introducing themselves as the character they are portraying (Aya 1, 2, 3 or 4), but first they tell a “personal story of failure” – all of which were easy and minor. Ashil Lee talks about putting on her mask the wrong way, Drae Campbell about an obnoxious date who snatched leftovers from an empty restaurant table, not realizing the diner had simply gone to the bathroom. (“My mistake was going on the date.”)

But when they were done, Ogawa poured fake blood on her face and let out a piercing scream.

That was Kenya with the nosebleeds. And from that point on, the production started to seem different to me.

I didn’t remember the scream nearly as violent and frightening, nor her face as bloody as at the Japan Society.

This could be a memory trick, of course, but there were other indications that Ogawa, the director of both productions, upped the intensity.
Ten months ago, she told audiences that the play “began as an exploration of failure. “

At Lincoln Center, she called it “one of the biggest failures of my life.”

There is a single scene in both productions with the white man (that’s the character’s name in the program) wondering why Aya is the only Japanese-American he knows who doesn’t have an accent. His ignorance is obvious; It’s no big leap to understand that Ogawa sees this as indistinguishable from racism. But in the Lincoln Center production, all Ayas collapse dramatically in desperation, and perhaps something verging on anger, after his departure. I can’t remember any reaction that was so over the top (and unnecessary; we get it).

Ogawa made the game a bit wider, harder, less smooth. This only mattered to me because, whatever else the play is about – an implicit theme, for example, is the immigrant’s experience of being two cultures – it seemed to me that the play was mostly about vulnerability. That explains the title. That explains the effort to get viewers to reflect on their own troubling feelings towards their family.

Changing the tone to something more shrill, less gentle, doesn’t make the final scene of the ritual atonement any less theatrical or impressive. It just feels a little less healing.

The nosebleed
At the Claire Towe Theater at Lincoln Center through August 28
Running time: 75 minutes without a break
Tickets: $30

Written and directed by Aya Ogawa,
Sets and costumes by Jian Jung, lighting by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew and sound by Megumi Katayama.
Cast: Drae Campbell, Ashil Lee, Chris Manley, Aya Ogawa, Saori Tsukada, Kaili Y Turner

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