Is there anything more life affirming than death? Playwright Young Jean Lee tackles that question in We’re Gonna Die, which is receiving its Rhode Island premiere courtesy of the Wilbury Theatre Group.
The Guardian called Lee “one of the world’s most exciting playwrights,” and, indeed, she is. Lee was a sort of wunderkind, springing up from New York City’s downtown experimental theater scene to become the first Asian-American woman to have a play on Broadway in 2018 with Straight White Men. Fearless is a term often used to describe her work.
It makes perfect sense that Wilbury Theatre Group – our area’s go-to for challenging, avant garde theater — returns to her oeuvre. After mounting a critically acclaimed production of her play Church, the Valley neighborhood-based troupe takes a stab at her play about death.
A mashup of spoken word, music, and theater, We’re Gonne Die is a memento mori for our unsettled times. Set in a sort of rock club-meets-purgatory, the story line follows a series of losses: the falling out between childhood friends, a breakup with a lover, the death of a parent.
Lest this sound too morbid, Lee litters the show with songs that offer deadpan lyrics juxtaposed with peppy pop tempos. We may be destined to shuffle off this mortal coil, so it’s better to embrace life while we’re still above ground.
With humor as dry as a shot of white vermouth, Lee’s innovative work excavates despair and tragedy with a razor sharp edge and, ultimately, hope. There’s something comforting in knowing no matter our individual journeys…well…we’re all gonna die.
We’re Gonna Die runs at the Wilbury Theatre Group from January 19 – February 12. TheWilburyGroup.org, 475 Valley Street (inside the WaterFire Arts Center).
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