“We’re Gonna Die” is a play with music that faces reality — yes, we are all going to die. That’s okay, because the point of life is living, so why waste it? Young Jean Lee’s “We’re Gonna Die” faces this inevitable truth with real verve.
This play with music about death…celebrates life. This is a production you’ll be glad you saw.
Regina Aquino is The Singer, and in a brisk hour or so, she takes us through her life and how she not only came to the realization that death is an inescapable fact, but also to embrace it. There is nothing morbid in this play. There is joy and sorrow, which is the yin and yang of existence.
The play makes the point that we get to practice for the big D and things end all the time. It acknowledges the shock of the bone-deep grief and the dizziness that loss causes that brings us to a safe place of knowledge and peace. By the end, The Singer has realized that yes, we’re all going to die, including herself, and yet we’ll all live on for a while in the hearts and minds of the people who knew us. So let’s throttle down and ride that highway as far as we can. In a time of pandemic, this is not a bad thing to hear. It’s liberating.
It’s an oddly uplifting hour, actually. That feeling, as well as the story arc, is helped along by the backup band —Laura Van Duzer on keyboard/vocals, Matthew Schleigh on guitar/vocals, Jason Wilson on bass/vocals, and Manny Arciniega on drums/vocals. The music embraces many influences such as hip-hop, punk, indie rock, and (one beautifully haunting lullaby that opens the show) that gives it an edginess and refusal-to-be-labeled aura. Known in the DMV as the Chance Club, this group of actor-musicians is so good you wish the show was a little longer. Aquino fits in well with them — she has all the rock star moves.
The play also asks us what kind of legacy do you want to leave. How DO you want to be remembered? It makes clear that when you come to the understanding of the basic impermanence of everything in the world, it’s very freeing, so you might as well live large and live true.
All this happens in an hour. A lot of the credit goes to director and choreographer Paige Hernandez. She has pared down the original pop-type of score and brought in the multi-cultural references, especially the genres for which D.C. is known. This direction makes the show an anthem to living rather than a dirge of despair.
The set is gorgeous, full of deep, saturated colors and moody lighting designed by Harold F. Burgess, III. Each of the actor-musicians almost has a “room” toward the back of the stage and under the bridge and stairway. Each room is a deep blue, purple, gold, green, or red. It’s effective in framing the action. Costume designer Ivania Stack has outfitted the cast to fit the rock/punk/grunge sensibility without being over the top.
This play with music about death is a lot of fun and quite thoughtful. It celebrates life and even death — not as a tragedy but as an inescapable fact that we all just have to grow up and figure out how we’re going to face it. We might as well face it full throttle. This is a production you’ll be glad you saw.
Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes without intermission.
Show Advisory: Some adult language.
“We’re Gonna Die” has been EXTENDED through July 25, 2021 and is presented virtually by Roundhouse Theatre, Bethesda, MD. For more information, please click here.