Alli Villines and her trusty sidekick ukulele are bringing Young Jean Lee's We're Gonna Die to Houston audiences.
Alli Villines and her trusty sidekick ukulele are bringing Young Jean Lee's We're Gonna Die to Houston audiences.
Photo by Tasha Gorel

Unlock Private Misery and Celebrate Life With Horse Head's We're Gonna Die

Horse Head Theatre Co. has beckoned us into the belly of the beast with The Whale: or, Moby-Dick, body slammed us in a collab with Stages and Doomsday Wrestling in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, and now beckons with another out-of-the-box production in We're Gonna Die.

"I’ve been describing it to people as a Moth hour with music," says Alli Villines, who handles musical direction and also stars in this mash-up of concert, theater and group therapy. Jacey Little directs.

Young Jean Lee's script mines heavily from humanity's common despair, including heartbreak, death, childhood bullying and marital strife. Lee and her band Future Wife first introduced the show to theater audiences in 2011 at New York's Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, and the playwright has allowed performers to modify the anecdotes in the script.

"I have made small changes and used real names from my own life to tell these stories so that they can kind of be more personal to me. Some of the stories I feel like everybody’s gone though," says Villines. "When I changed the names it was almost like this is my story now because this has happened to me."

With dark and somber lyrics, the songs would seem to be full of despair: "Lullaby for the Miserable," "When You Get Old," "Horrible Things" and "We're Gonna Die," among others, but the uplifting melodies and memorable choruses keep it light.

"The original songs they had like drums and keyboards and two guitars and a bass; very much indie pop," says Villines, who is changing things up with her trademark musical instrument (ukulele), accompanied by Alan Simmons (stand-up bass) and Gitiim Chakamoi (percussion). "I think with the ukulele there’s an automatic levity brought to heavy subjects. The juxtaposition of the heavy lyrics against a lighter musical feel — I have a higher voice and I'm playing a higher instrument — that brought a levity to the piece."

Villines says it's hard to sing "We're Gonna Die" but she's hoping her arrangement will inspire audience members to leave the venue singing the song. "It will be cathartic and joyful. The message is you’re not alone. We’re all in this together."

It's a nomadic production making stops at comedy, music and other venues in the Houston area, ending the month with a couple of free shows at underserved locations outside the loop.

"I want Houston to see this show. We want to bring it to everybody, or at least whoever comes out and wants to hang out. I see it as a shared experience," says Villines.

Some of the shows are followed by concerts or karaoke and we've been warned that every night will be different, depending on the vibe they get from the crowd.

Part theater, part concert, part group therapy session, the lyrics on We're Gonna Die's setlist are grim, but the composition keeps the evening upbeat and pop-happy.
Part theater, part concert, part group therapy session, the lyrics on We're Gonna Die's setlist are grim, but the composition keeps the evening upbeat and pop-happy.
Photo by Tasha Gorel

"It’s very important to me to connect with the audience. I’ll do a little preshow and I will talk to the audience," says Villines, who has labeled herself a champion for the ukulele. "There may even be an impromptu ukulele lesson.

"I’m really excited. It’s going to be kind of like a different show every night," adds Villines. "You never know what’s going to happen when you go into a new place with new people. I’m excited about it. It will be a fun evening. I know that it’s called We’re Gonna Die, but we’re gonna have fun."

Performances of We're Gonna Die are scheduled for August 17-September 1 at multiple locations, horseheadtheatre.org.

8 p.m., August 17, The Secret Group, 2101 Polk, $15 to $20
8 p.m., August 18, PJ's Sports Bar, 614 West Gray, $15 to $20
8 p.m., August 20, Fitzgerald's Houston, 2706 White Oak Drive, pay what you can industry night
8 p.m., August 23, Spruce Goose: Social Flyers Club, 811 Congress, $15 to $20
8 p.m., August 24, Grand Prize Bar, 1010 Banks, $15 to $20
8 p.m., August 25, Khon's Wine Darts Coffee Art, 2808 Milam, $15 to $20
8 p.m., August 30-31, "outside the Loop" locations to be announced, $15 to $20
8 p.m., September 1, The Secret Group, 2101 Polk, $15 to $20

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