An 80 minute, one man musical. What the hell did I sign up for? Apparently, something fascinating.
We're Only Alive is an autobiographical story written and performed by David Cale. Most of the imagery surrounding the show regards the bird sanctuary he built as a child. However this is just exposition. The bird sanctuary takes us to his childhood home and eventually his childhood home.
Throughout the show we see Mr. Cale play each of his relatives. His mother, father, grandfather, and brother. Each of these characters has a rich backstory. As his life takes an incredibly dark turn, Mr. Cale manages to portray each person's point of view in the situation.
The story itself was incredibly compelling. His grandfather, a gang-member, was a despicable man and his father was just a bit better. His mother was a woman signing up for more than she could handle. It was interesting to me to see how in three generations a family could go from violence to the arts.
For a one man show, the staging was particularly impressive. The show starts with just Mr. Cale walking out on stage, however within a few minutes we see that he has a full orchestra behind him. This orchestra was blocked by a screen and they're lit such that we can only see them at key moments.
The birdcages and airplanes were the perfect for their scenes and give us just enough set in a small environment.
As I mentioned, this is a musical and the songs were gorgeous. I wouldn't say they were particularly catchy, and I'm not sure how a cast recording would survive on it's own, but they were perfect for the story. The songs were often used as a transition when Mr. Cale switched characters. My favorite, was the song about his brother's airplanes.
I don't think this show is for everyone, and I can't imagine what kind of life it will have after The Public Theater, but overall I thought it was beautiful and would recommend it if you're looking for something very different.