Review: THE NOSEBLEED at Woolly Mammoth

Obie-winning play on loss has participatory elements

By: Apr. 06, 2023
Review: THE NOSEBLEED at Woolly Mammoth
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Aya Ogawa never had a memorial service after their father died. So there's one every night in "The Nosebleed," Ogawa's unusually involving Obie-winning play getting its regional premiere at Woolly Mammoth.

The untapped anger and frustration of dealing with an emotionally unavailable father is at the heart of the work, otherwise named after a malady suffered by two young sons - minor episodes that nonetheless come with enough blood and screams to force a crack in normal family relations.

The reactions of the four-member cast who each play different aspects of Aya well represent the frantic inner dialog and panic that comes with parenthood.

It is Ogawa who introduces the work but otherwise plays those at its extreme ends of the narrative -the howling nose bleeding sons, but even more chilling the distant, confounding, increasingly debilitated father, who largely raises his family with his back to them, sitting at a cheap desk where unbeknownst to them, he's typewritten an obit that they only find long after his death. The irritable patriarch is largely an enigmatic, formidable negative force in the corner

Failure is a theme in the play I guess because there was no memorial service. So each actor shares a personal moment of their own failure (often the same one every night).. Audience members too are invited to share a moment of failure (Oddly, a lot of these stories involved dog poop opening night).

The audience is tipped off that there will be participation - even homework - when everyone is handed paper and pencil upon entry.

There are a series of questions to the audience - Who here has a father? Who here hates their father? - not rhetorical inquiries, but ones you hold your hand up to answer.

Volunteers are also sought for a ritual at one point. Because of all the direct dialog with the audience, the houselights are always kind of up..

"Nosebleed" has a workshop feel to it; the actors jump in to recreate specific scenes as if improvising. There is a looseness involved and some time taken up for the audience to do their homework.

A recurring bit about a particular scene from a forgotten season of "The Bachelorette" doesn't quite land - it was apparently included to show one suitor's unresolved daddy issues: "Did you ever tell him he wasn't there for you?"

The talented ensemble is largely the same one that performed at Lincoln Center - Ashil Lee, Kaili Y. Turner, Saori Tsukada, Drae Campbell - all rocking white shirts and nonbinary exuberance like the author (the one exception is the actor playing the thankless role of White Guy, played in appropriately annoying fashion in D.C. by Cody Nickell).

Individual results will vary, as they say. But the exercise of writing unanswered questions to a dead parents adds a deeper connection to the presented drama, almost approaching participatory performance art. It's one thing to relate to a situation on stage; quite another to pause and jot down deep questions about it. At the least, it makes for a cheaper yet far more entertaining substitution for therapy.

Running time: About 75 minutes, no intermission.

Photo credit: The ensemble in "The Nosebleed." Photo by DJ Corey Photography.

"The Nosebleed" runs through April 23 at Woolly Mammoth, 641 D St NW. Tickets available online.


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