With ‘The Nosebleed,’ Audience Participation Nearly Outweighs Character Development

While the play is a diverting and at times endearing exercise, it might have benefited from fewer clichés and a bit more depth.

Julieta Cervantes
The company of ‘The Nosebleed.’ Julieta Cervantes

At the beginning of “The Nosebleed,” an autobiographical play written, directed by, and featuring Aya Ogawa, four of the company’s six actors greet the audience by recounting personal failures. Their stories are short and amusing, preparing us for the brevity and whimsy with which Mx. Ogawa — who identifies as non-binary and often uses the pronouns they/their — will relay their own journey. The same is not true for aspects of the play that prove more vexing, both by design and unintentionally.

The focus of “Nosebleed” is Mx. Ogawa’s own failure, as they see it, to honor their father before he died. Pronouns notwithstanding, the playwright identifies as a mother and daughter, though the characters they portray here are male: those of their father and their own young son. The other performers, who are also non-binary or female, take turns as Mx. Ogawa — introduced as Ayas 1, 2, 3 and 4 — and others who figure into their life. Chris Manley is cast as “White Guy,” whose only task is to act stupid and callous during a brief exchange with one of the Ayas. 

Yet while race and ethnicity figure into Mx. Ogawa’s observations and jokes — one of the Ayas dismisses “The Bachelorette” as a forum for “white people trying to find true love,” and then grows addicted to the insipid “reality” series when a Black contestant pops up in the title role — we get little sense of how, or if, they informed the conflict with the playwright’s late father. 

Gender and generational differences, even more oddly, are also left pretty much untapped. We learn that the father was cranky and uncommunicative; he and Mx. Ogawa had only two conversations, as his daughter remembers it: one about the cost and purpose of higher education and the other about irrational fears he developed after suffering a stroke.

Mx. Ogawa, who proves a charming host, evokes the aging man poignantly in the scene illustrating the latter encounter. Ashil Lee, Kaili Y. Turner, Saori Tsukada, and Drae Campbell manage a warm, playful chemistry with the author and each other, offering glimpses of Mx. Ogawa’s quirks and the cultural baggage they have carried as a Japanese immigrant.

The role of the father, by comparison, seems underdeveloped. For much of his limited time onstage, he sits at a desk facing the back of Jian Jung’s bright but stark set, so that neither the other characters nor the audience can see his physical expressions. While this may help reinforce his unsociable nature, it also allows Mx. Ogawa less opportunity to flesh out a portrait that’s already pretty flimsy. Even a disturbing allegation made against him by a colleague at work is dropped as quickly as it’s raised.

Ironically, “Nosebleed” requests greater specificity from viewers. An audience member is invited at the start to join the actors in sharing an example of failure. Others are asked at various points to raise their hands if they can relate to a particular feeling or experience. How many folks out there have children? How many love their fathers? How many hate their fathers? 

A final question requires more detail; a neatly folded piece of paper is enclosed in the program and pencils are distributed, allowing anyone who wants to play along to do so. Rest assured your answer won’t be read out loud, though if you’re game you may be chosen to take part in a tender ritual that segues into a wacky finale.  

By not taking itself too seriously — or running too long — “The Nosebleed” remains a diverting and at times endearing exercise. Still, it might have benefited from fewer clichés and a bit more depth.

The New York Sun

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