8.16.13 — I think Young Jean Lee is one of the bravest and most talented young(-ish) artists on the New York theater scene. She challenges herself relentlessly, never works in the same genre more than once, and collaborates with artists from other forms and aesthetics all the time. I was delighted when Lincoln Center Theater scheduled a return engagement of We’re Gonna Die, a piece Lee first performed at Joe’s Pub and then brought to Lincoln Center last year at this time to inaugurate LCT’s new tiny black box space, the Claire Tow Theater. Just before We’re Gonna Die, Lee created a stylized costume drama kinda-but-not-really-adapted-from-Shakespeare called Lear at Soho Rep; just after WGD, she made Untitled Feminist Show, a (mostly) wordless dance piece featuring all naked women, which was performed at the Kitchen, where she’d also presented The Shipment, a play in which an ensemble of black actors played white characters. Unlike any of those, of course, We’re Gonna Die is staged as a rock concert, in which Lee fronts a band of nerdy boys called Future Wife.
I expected much more rock ‘n’ roll, but there’s quite a lot of stand-up storytelling about family and boyfriends – at heart, it’s an emotional account of Lee’s father’s recent attempt to participate in an experimental cancer treatment. The band is great, but Lee’s songs and performance are flat and mundane, intentionally so but not especially interesting (in the direction of Jonathan Richman, but not even that witty). Nevertheless, I admired her courage in getting up and doing it – I can’t think of too many other contemporary playwrights with the guts to live out their singing-with-a-band fantasies (although it’s fun to imagine: Adam Bock? Richard Greenberg? Annie Baker? David Mamet?) – and the band is terrific. (They are Tim Simmonds, Mike Hanf, Nick Jenkins, and Benedict Kupstas.) And she does get the audience to sing along on the title song, which closes the show – feel-good existentialism? Future Wife has just released an album of the show with a stellar array of guests, including David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, and Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys. You can hear the studio version of that song (overproduced if you ask me) below: