There was so much energy when I went into The Den Theatre, which I will rightfully chalk up to Haven Theatre Company’s infectious vibe. Upon entering, patrons were greeted with ear plugs before being thrust into a cloud of fog, as though attending a rock show. Curious, yet anxious, the crowd seemed spunky and exhibited a healthy amount of excitement in simply just being present. Unique and bold, “We’re Gonna Die” is the latest Haven Theatre Company production, and it’s engaging from the word “Go”.
“We’re Gonna Die” features a live band, riveting storytelling and even some stand up comedy as the cast share true to life experiences in order to connect with the audience on a subject that not many choose to talk about – death. Its message is direct. Despite our darkest hours and personal tragedies, we are not alone.
When the show begins, Spencer Meeks who plays the guitar, gives us a brief history of the play and how it is part of a 12-part series. With his eyeliner meticulously applied, Meeks promptly kicks off the evening with a loud beat.
Soon after, the main singer played by Isa Arciniegas emerges. She talks about her Uncle John and the experiences she shared with him when she was younger. The band breaks out into a song and it is quickly apparent that Isa is a natural entertainer. Arciniegas’ energy is contagious as she runs back and forth on the stage. She proceeds to tell the audience a couple more stories and concludes with a moving song about the death of her father.
Soon, everything comes together. Many people are uncomfortable with death, and to be fair, death is sad. We miss the people we lost and are swiftly enveloped with so many different emotions, first asking ourselves how something so tragic could happen to questioning the fairness in death. As Arciniegas continues to sing, she profoundly exclaims, "We're all going to die!"
In Young Jean Lee's “We’re Gonna Die” it is somehow made okay to be comfortable with death, a point made while jamming along with the show’s kick ass drummer played by Sarah Giovannetti. "We're all going to die!" is repeated over and over as confetti pours out from the ceiling along with balloons everywhere. Simply put, the play is a true celebration of life and a reminder that we all should live each day to the fullest since - we are all going to die.
The talented cast and team for "We’re Gonna Die" includes: Isa Arciniegas (singers), Sarah Giovannetti (band), Jordan Harris (band), Elle Walker (band), Spencer Meeks (band) and Kamille Dawkins (singer u/s). The production team for We’re Gonna Die includes: Josh Sobel (director), Abhi Shrestha (assistant director), Julie Leghorn (stage manager), Krista Mickelson (production manager), Spencer Meeks (music director), Claire Chrzan (light designer), Izumi Inaba (costume designer), Mike Mroch (scenic designer), and Jon Martinez (choreographer).
Well-directed by Josh Shobel, “We’re Gonna Die” is an interesting play that sheds light on a scary subject. It is a play that really gave me a chance to reflect, as I am sure would be true with the rest of its audience. All in all, I left smiling and excited that I went to the newly renovated Den Theatre (1335 North Milwaukee) to see this very original and thought-provoking play. I recommend checking it out while you can as it will be performed through June 4th. Tickets are priced at $18 and can be purchased at www.haventheatrechicago.com.
Underscore Theatre and Harborside Films hearkens back to a simpler time, when the biggest national tragedy was a young Olympic figure skater getting clubbed in the knees. The year was 1994 and the world couldn't get enough of Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan. Some twenty-two years later, this scandal is ripe fodder for a campy rock opera.
Written by Elizabeth Searle and Michael Teoli, "Tonya and Nancy" is exactly what it sounds like. A sharp, 90 minute campfest akin to "Mommie Dearest." There's no dressing this up as anything other than satire. It almost feels like an extended SNL sketch, but that's not to say it's not interesting. It's questionable how much of this skate tale is true, but it certainly serves to humanize both Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
Since this is billed as a rock opera, the soaring vocals make good sense. In the role of wrong-side-of-the-tracks Tonya Harding is Amanda Horvath, and she lands it well. Despite everything, Horvath's performance gives Harding some extra layers. She's also hilarious. Courtney Mack co-stars as Nancy Kerrigan. Mack also has a tremendously strong voice and it comes across in such campy songs as "Why Me?" While the show may be about two figure skaters, Veronica Garza actually steals the show playing dual-characters, Tonya and Nancy's moms. She seems to relish in playing Tonya Harding's down-on-her-luck mom, and the audience eats her spot-on accents right up. Garza also has an impressive voice.
Director Jon Martinez's choreography stands out as a high point in a show about ice skating that doesn't actually feature any ice skating. It's almost a surprise to see so many group dance numbers in a small space. In fact, the show features ensemble members in a perpetual state of motion which adds a nice visual element. It pairs well with all the lyrcra costuming, which reminisces of a thankfully bygone era.
For those entering this fray with some skepticism, approach this work with confidence. "Tonya and Nancy" is highly polished and well-staged. There's some real potential here. The show may be a little crowded with solos, but otherwise this is a solid script. It's always fun to see a new musical in its debut production.
Through December 30th at Theatre Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150.