By Tulis McCall

I spent a good but of time after seeing We’re Gonna Die trying to figure out why it worked.  I even asked my chum about this.  We both agreed that the cast was brilliant, the music was to the point and intimate, the direction was clear.  But that was not enough.  We couldn’t figure out why we were so moved.  After all, spending a Sunday afternoon listening to stories about death, and crisis and how life whacks us all in the head (no exceptions no matter what) does not sound like a jolly afternoon at the theatre.

But it was.  The press material describes the show as a “non-musical/non-play/non-concert that is not about dying.”  Which is convoluted way of saying it is all those things in passing.  This is a story that sticks a spade into the ground and comes up with the parts of life that most of us endure without speaking of them.  Most of us keep them buried in the private gardens of our creation.  Death and loneliness being two of the top choices.  It is sort of the pop version of “A Girls’ Guide to Suffering” and we are encouraged not only to clap but to sing.  Sing, mind you!

And why not? Young Jean Lee points out all varied sadnesses we all know –  from school yard shunning to true love ending to her father’s death. The lyrics are simple and repeated, almost as a Meisner exercise, because with each repetition, another layer of protection slides away.  With each minute that passes we become more vulnerable without realizing it is happening.  Until it does.

Janelle McDermott; Photo by Joan Marcus

We spend so much time focused on the successes, talking about our accomplishments, demonstrating gratitude on FaceBook posts, photographing our food, lauding our relationships – maybe we can take a little time to dive directly into the potholes of life.  Not to live there permanently. Just pop the boil on the cover-ups.  Give the hard times a little air and a little light.  Life’s whammies come along when they will.  They are heart breaking and arresting.  And universal.

The only words of comfort for the lonely
The very words that they will never hear…
I’m coming over now…
I’ll be right there

This was one of many lyrics that laid me out. It sticks with me like a whiff of perfume that I cannot identify.

We’re Gonna Die show has been around for awhile.  2011 at Joe’s Pub featured Young Jean Lee as the “Singer”.  Here Janelle McDermoth, does the honors with a brilliant performance. Chicago and Los Angeles since then.  It seems like no accident that it has arrived back here just in time to pair with the Coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic that is reminding us all of our mortality.  Life and death are opposite sides of the same coin.  As long as that is the case – why not blow up a few balloons and have a party!

We’re Gonna Die – by Young Jean Lee, Directed & Choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly

WITH Debbie Christine Tjong, Marques Walls, Freddy Hall, Janelle McDermoth, Ximone Rose, Kevin Ramessar

Scenic Design: David Zinn, Costume Design: Naoko Nagata, Lighting Design: Tuce Yasak, Sound Design: Jason Crystal, Music Supervision & Arrangement: Remy Kurs, Orchestrations: Cian McCarthy.  Through March 22 at Second Stage Theatre.  TICKETS