It’s one of two things in life that are certain. And we’re not talking about taxes.

We’re Gonna Die.

That disheartening subject is the theme of the Rhode Island premiere of the award-winning play We’re Gonna Die, which opens later this week at Wilbury Theater Group’s performance space, the Waterfire Arts Center in Providence. The play was written and originally produced by playwright Young Jean Lee, who was described by the New York Times as “hands down, the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation.”

The show, a mix of live music and engaging storytelling, takes the audience on a journey through the ups and downs of existence, leading to a place of hope and acceptance. The story moves from comedy to tragedy and back again. The Providence production features Helena Tafuri, Chazz Bruce, Jose Docen, and Teddy Lytle.

Helena Tafuri in “We’re Gonna Die” (Photo provided by Wilbury Theatre Group)

The play is also the Wilbury directorial debut for Marcel A. Mascaro, who I spoke with last week. Mascaro explained how the show falls outside the mainstream of traditional theater.

“Unlike most musicals, it does not come with a full libretto,” they said. “The show was made as a collaborative process with the writer and performer, who was one and the same originally. There is a live band and we hired a music director who is also part of the band. All you are given is a song list with lyrics and chord sheets.”

“The play shifts between single-actor anecdotes and song,” continued Mascaro. “Helena will be doing the anecdotes and will be playing the part of ‘the singer,’ her character’s name. They are all real anecdotes, all real stories, but they’re not all the playwright’s real anecdotes. They were created through workshops with the playwright and her acting company.” 

How does Mascaro approach such a non-traditional performance, especially one about death?

“Not all the anecdotes deal with death directly,” they said. “The beginning ones deal with that first moment of solitude, of learning about masking one’s emotions, to hide what you are truly feeling about rejection. All of these are connected to the topic of death, like rejection, loss, loneliness, and solitude, these are all things that come with loss. The play she’s written is naturally very theatrical.”

Theater-goers will be able to identify with these stories, we all remember our first love, or the feeling of losing a loved one. “The theme is in order to live a full happy life, we need to accept the full weight of death and all its negatives,” added Mascaro.

Mascaro, who identifies as non-binary, is a Resident Artist at Wilbury. They’ve been studying acting since high school and are a graduate of the MFA Brown/Trinity Rep and BFS SUNY Purchase programs. Mascaro has worked with Teatro En Verano, a collaboration between Rhode Island Latino Arts and Trinity Rep. “I mainly act, but in the last five or six years, I’ve been directing creatively… this is my Wilbury debut. I’m done a lot of atypical things.”

Marcel A. Mascaro (Photo provided by Wilbury Theater Group)

“I really want people to come see the show… I’ve been a little scared producing a show that’s called We’re Gonna Die, especially when there’s so much death going on, it was hard getting into the mindspace of the show, stuff is really scary out there,” added Mascaro.

We’re Gonna Die runs through February 12 at the Waterfire Arts Center in Providence. Wilbury offers “pay what you can” tickets are part of its commitment to equitable and inclusive theatre. Click here for complete details.

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Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music, the arts and more for What'sUpNewp. He is also a contributor to Providence Monthly, SO RI, Hey Rhody and The Bay magazines. Ken DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse,"...