“Think back to when you were in your punk phase, when you were a teenager,” Regina Aquino recalls director Paige Hernandez advising her during rehearsals for We’re Gonna Die. The rousing and rebellious music that has long been associated with D.C., from punk to go-go, very much informed the virtual production at Round House Theatre.
“We [channeled] the spirit of the arts community in this city,” Aquino says, “[specifically] the musical and artistic reaction since the ’80s to what the world perceives Washington as, which is so subversive. It’s so just like, ‘fuck it!'”
That attitude helped Aquino, a queer-identified first-generation Filipino immigrant from the D.C. suburbs, find her bearings to portray the central character in the one-woman play created by noted Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee. “She gets hit with all of this real trauma and all of this pain. And she has the choice of ‘I can be sad and lost in despair and isolate myself the way that I know how to do. Or I can just look at it and say, fuck it, I’m still alive now. I might die tomorrow. What am I going to do with today?'”
Hernandez sees Lee’s work as instructive and cathartic, and sought to emphasize those aspects in a production she envisioned as “a rallying cry and call for all who are going through something difficult to find the positive perspectives in the balance of it all.”
It’s rendered in vivid, colorful style through Paige Hathaway’s set, and becomes joyous and playful at key points, the result of savvy touches from Hernandez as both director and choreographer.
“If you asked me six months or a year ago how this process would have been, I don’t know if I would have said fun,” Hernandez says. “But it’s probably one of the best rehearsal processes we’ve ever had.”
Aquino feels similarly. For starters, she gushes over her collaboration with The Chance Club, the band accompanying her during the performance. “It was kind of like I was the president of the fan club that got to sing with them for a month,” she says. “I got to live my wildest dreams of being a rock star while also doing theater.”
More fundamentally, Aquino values the play’s powerful messages. “I really needed this at the end of the pandemic, I have to be honest with you,” she says. “I really needed it. So if someone else — if one other person — feels that way after watching this, we did our jobs.”
We’re Gonna Die is available for streaming through July 11. Tickets are $30. Visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
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