Kelsey holds a BFA in Theatre Studies and a BS in Cinema/Media Studies from the U of I in Champaign-Urbana. She's a freelance dramaturg, most recently working with Circle Theatre's Venus in Fur. Kelsey believes in theater's ability to change the world. A mix of wit and lit.
Pictured: Isa Arciniegas. Photo by Austin D. Oie.
By Kelsey McGrath
Haven Theatre’s WE’RE GONNA DIE is a meta-theatrical, alive, celebration of life. Though marketed as a “punk rock concert,” whiplash was not included. Written by Young Jean Lee, an anonymous singer revels in personal anecdotes and song, oscillating along the emotional spectrum. WE’RE GONNA DIE is a storytelling event. At her best, “Singer” weaves tales of loneliness, disease, and loss. Culminating in the declaration: “Who do you think you are to be immune to tragedy? What makes you so special that you should go unscathed?” WE’RE GONNA DIE honors this final thought with balloons, choreography, and confetti cannons.
The novelty of WE’RE GONNA DIE is in its rejection of theatrical narrative; it is a storytelling event marrying music, stand up, and oration. The details in Young Jean Lee’s text allow the anecdotes to be owned by anyone. Lee magnificently accomplishes the “Show, don’t tell” rule of writing. Isa Arciniegas does a fine job embodying the spunky “Singer.” Although some of her words were lost in song, her heart was on her sleeve. Arciniegas is our guide, and we trust her. She traverses through the thick and thin, owning her words with a fire inside.
Throughout the show, the ensemble engages in “gift-giving” with the audience; balloons are blown up and handed out to symbolize catharsis of crucial moments. This metaphor is awkward at first, the audience didn’t know how to interact. This may have been due to the space; it doesn’t lend itself to a punk rock concert. With no standing room, the intimate room is filled with stadium seating and small, candle lit tables. The way the audience filled and engaged with the space was not consistent with the tone of the text. With precursors like ear plugs and warning labels, I expect some of the audience wouldn’t have minded this show on their feet.
I totally would have jammed/hair flipped/head banged along with the talented group of musicians. While they didn’t have any scripted lines, Singer’s bandmates Jordan Harris, Spencer Meeks, Elle Walker, and Sarah Giovannetti, rock. Their musical accompaniment scores Isa’s words. Like a soundtrack in a movie, the music swells and fades and lives with the arcs of “Singer.” The ensemble energy is the most palpable and the most important element of this show. WE’RE GONNA DIE is a scrappy celebration of the truth and our existence. Or, the end of our tangled existence. It makes us feel alive.
WE’RE GONNA DIE runs through June 4th. For more information visit haventheatrechicago.com