When Farrell Parker steps out onto the black box stage at The Writer’s Center in Flying V’s version of We’re Gonna Die, something explodes.
Light and sound—literally—erupt. And while much of the effect is thanks to lighting designer Kristin A. Thompson and four contemporary jazz musicians (Alec Green, David Hutchins, Jason Wilson, and Marika Countouris, who is also the show’s music director), it is Parker herself who turns the switch.
This is a performer who generates electricity, zapping everyone awake and shouting “pay attention!” with her ferocious stare and deadpan voice. And pay attention we do.
Parker—whether seated, standing, hiding or striding—offers us a series of vignettes that are, by turns, painful, funny, silly and sad. She combines monologue, drama, song, and dance to expose the darkness that comedy hides.
Think of it as a riff on death, with laughter to lighten the load. Or as a musical variation on isolation and loss.
Some of the stories are poignant—rejections from boyfriends and parents—and some are terrible. Loneliness and pain are pervasive, but, as she reminds us, they are part of life.
In fact, the play, despite its title (the words, We’re Gonna Die, come from a line by Jack Kerouac, mourning the death of Neal Cassady, his friend), is a celebration of life.
Parker, whose stunning performance lies at the heart of this production, has superb timing and a voice that needs no amplification. A classically trained actor, she has appeared on many DC stages, including Arena, Constellation, and Keegan. She is now a member of the Flying V company and was recently seen in its Helen Hayes-nominated musical You, or Whatever I Can Get.
Much of the power of this Flying V production flows from the direction of Josh Sobel, whose Chicago production of the show was picked up to run at Steppenwolf.
The play itself had its world premiere in New York in 2011, when it opened to rave reviews at Joe’s Pub, the cabaret inside the Public Theater. Young Jean Lee, the playwright, has won OBIE awards for two of her plays, and has commissions for future work from Lincoln Center, Playwrights Horizons and Paramount Pictures.
We’re Gonna Die is preceded by a 40-minute opening act that—at the performance I saw—added nothing to the show itself.
In fact, the opener—a stand-up comedian or a singer—may actually detract from the show. At 60 minutes, this play is not only long enough to stand on its own, but it is moving enough to be worth the price.
I left the theater with tears in my eyes, and gratitude, toward everyone involved in this production, for bringing it alive.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, including opening act and one intermission.
Creative Team: Jennifer J. Hopkins, choreographer; Jos B. Musumeci, Jr., set designer; Brittany Graham, costume designer; Laura Schlachtmeyer, stage manager