We’re Gonna Be Okay, the sixth and final production we saw at the 2017 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theater in Louisville, presents an historical yet utterly contemporary look at anxiety and fear in American culture and society. This show landed in the top position of many of 14 of us from Park Square who attended the festival.
The historical context of We’re Gonna Be Okay is the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the 13-day confrontation between Russian and the U.S. regarding deployment of nuclear weapons. Many of those who travelled with us from Park Square to Humana discussed the anxiety that the nuclear buildup of the 1950s through the 1980s created, and while I was not yet born when the Cuban Missile Crisis happened, I do remember in grade school and junior high having nuclear war drills where we protected ourselves—preposterously—by getting under our desks. The contemporary context is playing out today as more and more countries seek nuclear capabilities creating new anxieties through possible confrontation with unpredictable foes. We live in an anxious world, articulated well by the festival’s Artist Insight speaker, the incomparably fabulous speaker, actor, and playwright, Taylor Mac, who asked “What’s Gonna Happen?”
We’re Gonna be Okay is about the absurdity of getting under our desk. In this case, two adjoining families and their decision to build a bomb shelter under their homes along their property line. While the play is about fear and protecting one’s self and family, it is a comedy, and a funny one at that, especially in the second act where the well-developed characters’ fears and anxiety manifest in life-changing ways. As the characters deal with their physical closeness, issues of family roles, gender, and sexuality are exposed. As their worlds crack open through this metaphorical bombing, we know they are all gonna be okay.
The play has a Twin Cities connection, as the playwright developed the play with support from the Playwrights’ Center’s Jerome Fellowship Program.
Following the theater, we had dinner at Wiltshire on Market in Louisville’s trendy NuLu (New Louisville), which is walkable from downtown. We reflected on the great theater we had seen at this year’s festival. Many of the plays dealt with confronting fear and anxiety, and characters dramaturgically finding their truer selves. And in these times of not knowing “What’s gonna happen?” it’s important to appreciate theater’s important role as it helps explain, entertain, challenge, and transform us and our society.