With a title like “We’re Gonna Die,” you might expect the Flying V Theatre’s next production to be morbid.
But Josh Sobel, who is directing the work by playwright Young Jean Lee, said it is about the comfort we can find in a loss. Whether it comes from a relationship, death of a loved one or our impending death.
“The comfort is that we’re not alone because every one of us experiences the same things in grief,” he said.
The collected stories at the heart of “We’re Gonna Die” are based on true events. They deal with people of varying sources and shapes of pain, heartbreak and betrayal, getting older or having to confront our mortality.
“These feelings can be so isolating,” Sobel added. ‘No one experiences loss or death in the same way. Yet, we’re never alone; it’s a culmination of shared humanity.”
“We’re Gonna Die” premiered at Joe’s Pub in New York City. Sobel knows the work well as he headed a production of it in Chicago, which was then picked up to run at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
A fortuitous meeting at a conference with Jason Schlafstein, Flying V’s artistic director, led to the local production.
“I’m very glad to be revisiting the show,” Sobel said.
Familiarity with “We’re Gonna Die” still leaves a little ambiguity. It is not that clear-cut whether the production is a solo show or not, Sobel said. There is one storyteller-singer on stage, but she is also fronting a live band. That performer is Farrell Parker and she is doing her fourth main stage show at Flying V.
“‘We’re Gonna Die’ is a mash-up performance that combines elements of a storytelling session, existential stand-up routine, and rock concert, exploring real-life experiences,” Parker said. Although there is a play at the heart of “We’re Gonna Die,” with text written by a playwright, it really can be called “theater “in a larger sense, according to Parker.
“You couldn’t call this a one-person show,” she said. “Not only am I onstage with a band, but this is such a collaborative art form that to call anything a solo show — that the performers didn’t create, produce, design and perform all by themselves — feels like a total misnomer.”
Parker said done a “good amount” of original work and written for sketch and stand-up comedy, but this type of production is a first.
“It really actually taught me how to collaborate,” she said. “It was a really personal, hard, hilarious and fantastic experience that has had a really great audience response.”
Although this is not a Flying V premiere, all the musical arrangements by keyboard player Marika Countouris and the rest of the band are original.
“They have a very distinctive sound, like a punk band,” said Sobel.
Another innovation in this production is the different opening show each week to set the ton. Local musicians, magicians, stand-up comics and other storytellers are invited to bring in their twist to the show.
“Because the lines are blurred in the sense of ‘What is this show? A play? A storytelling event? A concert? A one-woman show?’ We figured we’d blur those lines even more by having an opening act that fits into any one of the above categories,” Parker said. “You have to wait and see what happens.”
Despite her experience with the play, Parker’s greatest challenge remains within the original playwright’s guidelines.
According to Parker, “We’re Gonna Die” was “designed for anyone to be able to perform as themselves without adopting a theatrical persona. This is different from every play I’ve done in its format. Is performing as yourself ‘oxymoronic?”
Parker said she is not sure, but she is giving her best shot.
“We’re Gonna Die” is currently running now through June 15 at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda. www.flyingvtheatre.com.