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Review — We’re Gonna Die Explores Hard Truths

There is an intimacy in the work that implores you to look inside yourself…

Janelle McDermoth in We're Gonna Die (Joan Marcus)

Death most definitely isn’t something we’re comfortable discussing. It is a truth of life that we refuse to acknowledge because to acknowledge it would mean facing our own mortality. Young Jean Lee explores this and much more in We’re Gonna Die at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater. 

We live in a binary culture. Man, Woman, Adult, Child, Life, Death. In We’re Gonna Die, plays in the gray space in between. The set is a neutral space. Like hospital waiting rooms and bus stations, it feels comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. Janelle McDermoth, our lead, transitions seamlessly from gut-wrenching monologues to bittersweet ballads and back again. Frequently she relishes in the silence in-between moments, giving us time to process what is being said. 

Lee’s monologues, delivered with care by McDermoth, feel as though they are from a friend over coffee. There is an intimacy in the work that implores you to look inside yourself to those moments you felt alone, faced tragedy, and overcame. Part of it is that these stories are based on true events. This is the nitty-gritty reality of life. We experience transitions as the band goes from quietly waiting to jammin’ out. 

The tongue in cheek lyrics of the songs perfectly complements the monologues. They are full of hard truths and humor. The music itself is reminiscent of Lily Allen’s “Alright Still” and Paramore’s “After Laughter” with lots of synthesizers and guitar riffs. Again, we hear this fine balance of joy and pain, sorrow and triumph. Simone Rose, Debbie Christine Tjong, Kevin Ramessar, Freddy Hall, and Marques Walls provide the perfect accompaniment to McDermot not just visually (they are a gorgeous cast!) but in the spirit and energy of the show. The connection between them is strong and it feels as if the band has been together for years. 

Under Raja Feather Kelly’s direction, this piece dives deep and wide into a pool of emotion. Kelly carefully balances a myriad of emotions the characters and, in turn, the audience feels. This place between places we see on stage and the transitions from monologue to song come with great care and attention to detail. Some transitions happen faster than others. Some mean little and others mean everything. And isn’t that just like life? Are we not always in transition? 

We’re Gonna Die plays through March 22nd at Tony Kiser Theater. 

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Written by Cheyenne Myrie

Cheyenne is a New York-based arts administrator and theatre historian. Her focus is on the intersections of Black theatre history and digital culture. Her work examines the ways in which digital media can be used to market programming, enhance audience engagement, and build community in a theater space. Cheyenne completed her M.A. in Black Theatre History and Narrative at New York University.

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