The Slow-Cooked Sentence

We might be miserable, but playwright Young Jean Lee doesn’t want us to be alone

Rachael Conlin Levy


Isolation and the connections we make to counter its debilitating brittleness are explored in Young Jean Lee’s work “We’re Gonna Die,” a haunting collection of music and personal essay that ultimately affirms life with its message that through pain we find each other.

With the tenderness and deliberation required to clean a wound, Lee and her band, Future Wife, expose pain and its many faces–the loneliness of a weird uncle, the ostracizing of a little girl from her friends, the alienation in aging, the betrayal in relationship. Universal feelings of exclusion, loss, and solace are plumbed through a series of intimately raw and unremarkable events from which all lives are made. In the 2011 script, Lee wrote:

Young Jean Lee. Photo by Blaine Davis.

“When you’re little, it’s sort of more okay to cry and freak out when you’re upset, but the older you get, the more necessary it becomes to develop this public face that you put on to hide your pain. And it’s not even like you can rip off the mask and let it all hang out when you’re in private around people who care about you, because there’s only so long you can go on dumping your pain on other people before they eventually start to get fed up. Which can make being in pain an incredibly lonely experience.

“This is something that has always really bothered me a lot, and I’ve always wished that there were some form of comfort available to us so that, when we were in that isolated place of pain, there would be something to make us feel better and not so alone. And I always imagined that if I found that comfort, it would take the form of something big and revelatory and amazing. But when I have encountered actual comfort in my life, it’s never been anything like that. It’s usually been something really ordinary and common sense.”

Lee explains in the author’s note that all of the stories in the script are true, although not all of them happened to her. Actors can deliver the monologues either as a single character (as Lee did in the 2013 show) or as a group of strangers, as done in the CD that includes a story told by David Byrne of the band Talking Heads.

The two approaches result in radically different shows, and while I prefer the CD version over Lee’s one-woman show, they both acknowledge pain and provide comfort to the lonely.

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