Photo by Maria Baranova
Since its founding in 1989, Ma-Yi Theater Company has distinguished itself as one of the country’s leading incubators of new work shaping the national discourse about what it means to be Asian American today. Building on the recent success of Felix Starro, the first Filipino-American musical Off-Broadway, and the Broadway-bound KPOP, Ma-Yi is pleased to continue its 30th anniversary season with an encore engagement of Haruna Lee’s critically-acclaimed Suicide Forest. Originally presented by The Bushwick Starr in association with Ma-Yi and directed by Aya Ogawa, Suicide Forest is a bilingual nightmare play excavating the Japanese-American consciousness and its intimate relationship with sex, suicide, and identity. Declared a “Best of 2019” production by New York Magazine and a critic’s pick by The New York Times, Suicide Forest runs February 25 – March 15 at A.R.T./New York Theatres Mezzanine Theatre (502 West 53rd Street, Manhattan) with an opening night set for March 3.
In 1990’s Japan, a teenage girl (Haruna Lee) grapples with her sexuality in a male-defined society as a salaryman desperately tries to escape his masochistic psyche. Both are clawing for their self-worth. When their journeys collide, they expose their darkest desires. Fueled by shame, they confront life and death with the notorious Suicide Forest looming over their imagination. Performed by a Japanese heritage cast, Suicide Forest breaks through the silence and submissiveness often associated with Japanese and Asian American identity, examining the role of community and the struggles of emotional, psychic and social suicide through the playwright’s lived stories. The play branches themes of intergenerational trauma, the psychic journey of the immigrant, the coming-of-age and ownership of one’s sexual identity in a hyper-sexualized and male-centered world. “Go see it,” proclaimed Laura Collins-Hughes in her New York Times critic’s pick review. “Aya Ogawa has directed a wild ride of a production. This nightmare-vision play about Japanese-American identity cracks wide open, and what’s underneath is so heart-stingingly tender and explicitly personal that the whole work shifts.”
“If I won the lottery, I’d put all of the following on Broadway next year,” wrote Helen Shaw in her New York Magazine round-up of the Best Theater of 2019, which included Suicide Forest. “The playwright/performer Haruna Lee’s wickedly comic nightmare seemed like a portrait of a private hell. Then, out of nowhere, the production executed one of the year’s neatest heel-turns. Lee took their existentially terrifying play into kindness, community, and shared burden, moving the piece out of the forest and into the light.” Joining Lee in performance, the cast for Suicide Forest includes Lee’s mother, Aoi Lee, along with Ako, Keizo Kaji, Yuki Kawahisa, Eddy Toru Ohno, and Dawn Akemi Saito. The creative team includes Jian Jung (scenic design), Alice Tavener (costume design), Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (lighting & video design) Fan Zhang(sound design), Jen Goma (original music), and Nina Williams-Teramachi (production stage manager).
Haruna Lee notes, “I’ve been asked often, ‘How will an American audience understand this bilingual Japanese-themed play?’ I want to offer that there is no doubt that this is an ‘American’ play. Its only mission has been to reflect truthfully my American immigrant experience.” Suicide Forest centers the women/trans/non-binary and Asian-diasporic perspective on stage and in process. Ma-Yi Theater Company and the artists involved with Suicide Forest ask writers interested in responding to the play to bring a commitment to examining and dismantling colonization and white supremacy culture. Performances of Suicide Forest will take place February 25–March 15 at A.R.T./New York Theatres Mezzanine Theatre located at 502 West 53rd Street, Manhattan. Tickets, priced at $30–$75, can be purchased by visiting ma-yitheatre.org or by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111. About the Creative Team Haruna Lee (Playwright, Performer) [they/them] is a Taiwanese-Japanese-American theater maker whose work is rooted in a liberation-based healing practice while committed to promoting arts activism and emergent strategies through ethical and process-based collaborations. Their play Suicide Forest published by 53rd State Press premiered at the Bushwick Starr and was a New York Times Critic’s Pick, hailed as “Vivid, haunted, heart-stingingly tender and explicitly personal.” It appeared on New York magazine’s Top 10 shows of 2019. Other plays include plural (love) (New Georges, Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab), and Memory Retrograde (The Public’s Under the Radar Festival Incoming! Series). Lee is a recipient of the Lotos Foundation Prize for Directing, the New Dramatists Van Lier Fellowship, and has received grants from the Map Fund, Mental Insight Foundation, FCA, NYSCA, and NEA. As a performer, they’ve worked with Aya Ogawa, Minor Theater, Taylor Mac, David Lang & Rachel Chavkin, Kate Benson & Lee Sunday Evans, Ralph Lee, and Anohni- among others. They’ve been a member of Interstate 73, the 2019 artEquity cohort, and an affiliated artist with New Georges. They teach at NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing. harunalee.com Aya Ogawa (Director) [she/her] is a Tokyo-born, Brooklyn-based playwright, director, performer and translator whose work reflects an international viewpoint and utilizes the stage as a space for exploring cultural identity, displacement and other facets of the immigrant experience. Cumulatively, all aspects of her artistic practice synthesize her work as an artistic and cultural ambassador, building bridges across cultures to create meaningful exchange amongst artists, theaters and audiences both in the U.S. and in Asia. She has written and directed many plays including A Girl of 16, oph3lia (HERE) and Ludic Proxy (The Play Company). Most recently she wrote, directed and performed in The Nosebleed at the Incoming! Series at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. She has translated numerous Japanese plays into English including over a dozen plays by Toshiki Okada; many have been published by Samuel French among others and produced in the U.S. and U.K. She is currently a resident playwright at New Dramatists and a Usual Suspect at NYTW, and recently a member of the Devised Theater Working Group at the Public Theater and Artist-in-Residence at BAX. ayaogawa.com About Ma-Yi Theater Company Founded in 1989 and now celebrating its 30th season, Ma-Yi Theater Company is a Drama Desk, Lortel, and Obie Award-winning, Off-Broadway not-for-profit organization whose primary mission is to develop and produce new and innovative plays by Asian American writers. Since its founding, Ma-Yi has distinguished itself as one of the country’s leading incubators of new work shaping the national discourse about what it means to be Asian American today. Its numerous acclaimed productions include Mike Lew’s Teenage Dick and Bike America, Qui Nguyen's The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G and Soul Samurai (with Vampire Cowboys), and Hansol Jung’s Among The Dead. Other productions include: Rescue Me by Michi Barall, Lloyd Suh's The Chinese Lady and Lonnie Carter’s The Romance of Magno Rubio. The Ma-Yi Writers Lab, a signature program founded in 2004, is the largest resident company of Asian-American playwrights ever assembled. The Lab emboldens a new generation of Asian American artists to voice their experiences, while developing a steady stream of quality new works by Asian American playwrights for Ma-Yi’s own performing repertory. New works developed at the Writers Lab have gone on to successful productions around the country, at such theaters as Victory Gardens, Laguna Playhouse, Long Wharf Theater, Woolly Mammoth and the Actors Theater of Louisville, to name a few. Ma-Yi’s productions have earned 10 Obie Awards, 5 Henry Hewes Award nominations, a Drama Desk nomination for Best Play and the Special Drama Desk Award for “more than two decades of excellence and for nurturing Asian-American voices in stylistically varied and engaging theater.” Ma-Yi Theater is under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña. Suicide Forest By Haruna Lee Directed by Aya Ogawa Previews: February 25–27 at 7pm Opening: Tuesday, March 3 at 7pm Through March 15: Tuesday – Saturday at 7pm; Sunday at 5pm A.R.T./New York Theatres Mezzanine Theatre (502 West 53rd Street, Manhattan) $30–$75; ma-yitheatre.org; 866-811-4111