‘We’re Gonna Die’ Theater Review: Quick, Pull the Plug Now!

Young Jean Lee tells us the obvious over and over again in a show that’s good only because it’s very short

we're gonna die
Photo: Joan Marcus

“We’re Gonna Die” begins with members of the band slowly, one by one, entering what appears to be a pale lavender waiting room (set by David Zinn). Janelle McDermoth is credited as the Singer, and after making a false start to begin the show, she finally brings a hand-held mic to her face to tell us a story. It’s the first of many. There are stories about her sad uncle, her learning to ride a bike, her being dumped by a great boyfriend and her father’s lung cancer.

The members of the band, having heard this stuff before, are so engaged that they occasionally get up to put a few coins into a snack machine located in the corner of the waiting room to get their day’s fix of JuJus or Milk Duds. At other moments, they play songs that comment on what the Singer has just told us. They’re infectiously bouncy pop tunes with lyrics that are distinguished by repeating one sentence ad nauseam, like “We’re gonna die. We’re gonna die. We’re gonna die.”

Young Jean Lee’s “We’re Gonna Die” opened Tuesday at Off Broadway’s Second Stage, and I have to assume that the Singer’s stories really happened to Lee or somebody she knows. “This really happened,” the Singer tells us during one anecdote. It didn’t happen to the Singer but a friend who discovered her husband of 12 years had been cheating on her with strippers and prostitutes. Later, the friend slipped in the shower and tore her cornea.

If any of this sounds of interest, go see “We’re Gonna Die.”

Lee has a very upbeat attitude toward death. Throughout the show, balloons fall from the rafters like sands through an hourglass. “We’re Gonna Die” is about death, yes, but it’s also about life and overcoming and other subjects suitable for a greeting card. The show ends with the band members dancing — they are professional musicians, they are not professional dancers, clearly. Soon, they don little party hats (costumes by Naoko Nagata) and start kicking all those balloons. Someone also shoots a gizmo that releases colored streamers. I haven’t seen that done on stage since a very desperate moment in “Seussical” (Broadway 2000).

During this riotous party scene, somebody on stage removes the clock from the waiting room wall. The clock had been clicking away in real time, and since I thought we had another 10 minutes to go in this 65-minute show, the abrupt ending emerged as the biggest, most pleasant surprise of the evening. One detail did concern me, however. McDermoth sings “We’re going to die,” while the other band members sing, “We’re gonna die.” Does this mean something? Or did they not rehearse much?

Raja Feather Kelly directs and choreographs.