"I've hated performing all my life," says Young Jean Lee.
Lee, after all, is not an actor but a nationally acclaimed experimental playwright. She never even took the stage during her two works staged here, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven, in 2007, and the scathingly funny, racism-themed The Shipment, in 2010.
Her latest contribution to The Andy Warhol Museum's Off the Wall series, however, is much different, and not just in content and tone. It was born when Lee asked herself, as usual: "What's the worst idea I can possibly think of?"
"What if I had to work with bad performers?" she says by phone from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I realized, ‘Hey, I am a terrible performer, and I hate performing."
Thus was born We're Gonna Die. Lee's self-described "hell on earth" is "a one-woman show with singing and dancing." And it stars ... Young Jean Lee.
But don't worry: We're Gonna Die doesn't aim for badness. Lee fronts a rock band (led by her boyfriend, Tim Simmonds). "They're a really cute band. They're eye candy," she says. But she took voice lessons first. Anyway, just half the show consists of catchy, original indie-rock-style pop songs like the matter-of-fact "I'm Gonna Die" ("I'm gonna die someday / Then I'll be gone, and it'll be OK.")
The rest of the evening is Lee onstage, telling stories about the pain of being human. All the stories are true, Lee says, although they didn't necessarily involve her. One, for instance, is about a girl playing a prank on an uncle who was the family outcast.
We're Gonna Die starkly contrasts Songs of the Dragons and The Shipment, confrontational shows that explored racism with 180-proof irony.
"We decided to make a show about being an ordinary person," Lee says of We're Gonna Die. "There's no irony, there's no performative distance. It's like, ‘Hey, life is painful, here's some comfort and identification.'"
We're Gonna Die premiered this past April, at New York's Public Theater, to strong reviews. Lee says the show's secret is her onstage ordinariness. "It's a show that works because I'm not a superstar performer," she says.
And calling it We're Gonna Die? "It sounds dark but it's fun."