Dallas — What is this piece? It has been described by some as a musical but it is not what we think of when we think of musicals. It is like a play in that it is scripted but it is not a play with music. So is it a cabaret? Well, not exactly though it is closer to that format than any other. It is experimental, albeit not in the way one might expect. It has even been described as a sort of quasi-rock concert with monologues. Playwright Young Jean Lee describes We’re Gonna Die simply as a show that needs a director, a show about something that connects us all: we’re going to age, get sick and die.
Originally produced for 13 Playwrights, Inc., along with Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company, Jake Nice has produced and directed this presentation as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center Elevator Project’s 2017-2018 season. Dallas performances were in the Sixth Floor Studio of the Wyly Theatre. Nice also presented the work at several DFW venues in 2017; and there will be another performance at Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage Productions on May 5.
Lee wanted to create a 60-minute show that any ordinary person could perform so she played around with the cabaret form, flipping it and going in different directions than traditional cabaret moves. This production features Samantha Rios (The Singer), but there is nothing ordinary about her voice. She is a good singer, with a voice one can describe as powerful. She is also an effective storyteller, opening the show by sharing the one about learning to ride a bicycle with girlfriends Emily and Jenny. Joining her onstage are musicians Jacob Metcalf (guitarist 1), Robert Anthony (guitarist 2), Austin Lee Kroll (bassist) and Paul Grass (drummer).
We’re Gonna Die tells stories informed by events from the playwright’s life. We hear about some of the people in her life, Mary Didio-the-new-girl, Uncle John, Henry the almost perfect boyfriend, and Beth. One might think that a show about failed relationships, illness and death would be depressing but Rios does not deliver the monologues in this way. Instead, she delivers them as true, relating them as if they were from her own experiences, often with humor.
Lovely best describes the way Aaron Johansen designed the lighting to frame her for these stories.
The musicians have a good sound and great performance energy, pushing the Indie-rock styled songs: “Lullaby for the Miserable,” “I Still Have You,” “Comfort for the Lonely,” “When You Get Old,” “Horrible Things,” “I’m Gonna Die/We’re Gonna Die.” Preston Gray deserves applause for the sound design.
The overarching theme is expressed in the final song in the show. “Who do you think you are to be immune from tragedy? What makes you so special that you should go unscathed?” Nobody is special, yet at the same time, everybody is special. We’re Gonna Die is energetic, creative, expressive and relatable. These performers succeed not only in relating the stories, but in engaging us in laughter, movement and singing along to a song that bluntly tells us we’re gonna die. Any show that can do that is a show one must see.