Already closed | 1h 25m | East Village

We're Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time

From 86 member  reviews
Members say: Absorbing, Intense, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Great writing

About the show

Lortel Award-winning writer/performer David Cale ("Harry Clarke") returns to The Public in his musical memoir of hope, family, and transcendence. 


Under the direction of Tony Award winner Robert Falls and featuring a six-piece orchestra, "We're Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time" reflects on Cale’s memories of growing up, escaping his parents’ fraught marriage by singing in his bedroom, and tending to birds in his backyard animal hospital. Until one day things change.

Member Reviews (86)


Absorbing, Intense, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Great writing
Avg Score

Memorable, Engrossing, Touching, Haunting, Riveting

See it if you want immersion in theater that's funny, moving, tragic, tender, harsh. Personal tragedy becomes art. Triumph of writing/acting. Gr band

Don't see it if you want a gr singer (Cale isn't) or gr lyrics (soft rhymes/repetition). Ending is abrupt. But the piece envelops you...kidnaps you.

Also Someone should make Maddie Corman (Accidentally Brave) see this show..... Read more Read less

Quirky, Lyrical, Versatile, Intense, Inspiring

See it if Inspiring solo autobio, overcoming horrific dysfunctional family. Many touching moments. Beautiful musical accompaniment. Full of feeling.

Don't see it if His vocals are not the strongest, but I enjoyed their creativity. His passion borders on mania, which can be a lot to take.

Slow, Poignant, Good storytelling, Absorbing

See it if you want to see an adept monologist paint a family portrait in words & song, full of fear, violence, vulnerability, pathos, hope & flight.

Don't see it if you're really not interested in hearing about another working-class dysfunctional family & the beleaguered son's triumph over adversity.

Also A lot has been said about Cale's less-than-stellar singing voice, and ... Read more Read less

Great acting, Ambitious, Quirky, Slow, Disappointing

See it if Cale's autobiographical solo drama/ tone poem is moving, often riveting and a little indulgent Well performed esp as his mother Barbara

Don't see it if Problem is a slack dramaturgy; veering from the tabloid to the maudlin w/ Barbara often dominating drama Recitative songs grow tiresome

Unusual, Quirky, Overrated, Slow, Absorbing

See it if You love solo shows where one person plays multiple characters — and you’re okay with a very slow-build plot. (The first half is boring.)

Don't see it if You dislike when writers perform their own work — especially when it’s a musical and the performer isn’t a skilled singer.

Emotional, Thought-provoking, Profound, Ambitious, Absorbing

See it if Beautiful self portrayal of a hellish childhood & the ability to remain hopeful, loving & kind. Musicians & accompaniments are beautiful.

Don't see it if not interested in theme of rising above family dysfunction. Cale is not a good singer/songs not particularly melodic - heartfelt instead.

Quirky, Intense, Deft storytelling, Absorbing, Melancholy and joy, both

See it if Written/perf by Brit re his life. Cale evokes several characters very deftly in speech/song. He survives true crime horror w tenderness.

Don't see it if It's dark & funny & warm & mesmerizing, but he's an oddball guy w a not-so-hot singing voice. If you don't like quirky, I'd avoid this.

Imaginative. well performed and very interesting storytelling.

See it if You appreciate solo shows with music.

Don't see it if You don't like solo shows.

Confusing, Thought-provoking, Slow, Intense

See it if You like one man shows with live music. You want a very quiet night of theater. A pleasant 80min.

Don't see it if You want to be kept engaged. I found this confusing and at times tedious. I was not taken by the story until close to the end.

Also The show got a standing ovation when I went, but 9/10th of the house. ... Read more Read less

Slow, Boring, Indulgent, Banal

See it if you like autobiographical one man shows.This had some lovely moments but it dragged.Music was delightful.Minimal set was good.

Don't see it if you are looking for anything new.Adult man talks about bad childhood, finds sympathy for parents as he tears them down.Edit down to 70 min.

Intense, Thought-provoking, Slow, Great writing, Absorbing

See it if Cale sings and tells the story of his childhood in England. The events he describes are horrific. A testament to survival and spirit.

Don't see it if The show starts off slow, and it doesn't get into the meat of the story until about halfway through.

Masterful, Intelligent, Great staging, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if you want to see one of the best solo performances in town right now. Incredible how the addition of music, great staging make it above par.

Don't see it if you don't like solo shows. This one is special, though.

Monotonous, Less than compelling, Non-singer singing, Excellent back up band, Fine acting

See it if you like a 1 character show that has fine acting & explores how a person, with a very difficult childhood, attempts to cope with life.

Don't see it if you dislike a performer who sings, but very poorly, & has a very sad life story that is mostly commonplace except for one critical incident.

Masterful, Great writing, Entertaining, Enchanting, Absorbing

See it if you have ever heard any boasting about actor/writer David Cale, because it is all TRUE and not to be missed!!!!

Don't see it if the thought of spending 83 minutes being mesmerized by an actor performing his latest one man show about his unusual upbringing sounds dull.

Also I am a TOTAL David Cale FAN from the the first play of his I saw here ... Read more Read less

Honest emotion, Intelligent, Enchanting, Absorbing

See it if You like David Cale. I had never seen him, but now would not miss the chance. He is a compelling performer and held my interest.

Don't see it if a man in lazy day clothes on stage does not sound fulfilling. you do not care for other people's growing up stories. Yo want loud music.

Riveting, Thought-provoking, Entertaining, Absorbing, Musical storytelling feat

See it if You like one person shows; appreciate effective storytelling; like tales of family dynamics and crises.

Don't see it if Are bothered by tales of family strive and violence.

Also Quite a captivating and entertaining 85 minutes. Cale has real talent ... Read more Read less

Indulgent, Heartfelt, Personal

See it if you are interested in a one-person show grappling with a challenging personal narrative; you love David Cale's other work

Don't see it if you need a fully-fleshed out show or flashy production; you aren't interested in one-person shows

Also It's always a little hard to judge projects like this that are deeply ... Read more Read less

Intense, Thought-provoking, Absorbing

See it if you are up for a one-man show about his dysfunctional family & how he escaped & maintained his hope & love for life

Don't see it if you have had more than your share of dysfunctional families, although this one is true

Bleak, Earnest, Tender

See it if you enjoy solo shows.

Don't see it if you don’t enjoy solo shows.

Also the script doesn’t hit its stride until a little past the halfway poin... Read more Read less

Annoying, Overrated, Slow

See it if you're a fan of the actor and enjoy one man shows with a story to tell.

Don't see it if you want to see a polished play.

Also I found the repetitive songs were a distraction from the story. Also, ... Read more Read less

Cheerfully tragic, Haunting storytelling

See it if Moving story wonderfully told of childhood in England. David Cale is a born storyteller.

Don't see it if David Cale is not a born singer unfortunately and his plaintiff tunes aren't as effective as his shape shifting monologues.

Also What struck me most about this one-man show is how sympathetic I felt ... Read more Read less

Great writing, Great singing, Great acting, Exquisite, Absorbing

See it if A compelling story beautifully told. Original with splendid musical accompaniment.

Don't see it if You are looking for a showy musical with fancy costumes and flashy numbers.

Resonant, Moving, Absorbing, Ambitious

See it if You want to see something different, a personal story presented in a surprisingly intriguing manner, with simple but beautiful music.

Don't see it if You don’t like solo shows, only want to hear singing by highly trained performers, need elaborate sets and props.

Resonant, Great staging, Absorbing

See it if You like intense autobiographical drama.

Don't see it if You want light, fluffy or are offended easily.

Delightful, Great acting, Beautiful, personal story

See it if You’re interested in well-told memoirs, storytelling, thoughtful musical excursions into the past. A really beautiful, honest show

Don't see it if You dislike one-man shows, need a full cast and big Broadway show

June 27th, 2019
"Lands in the gap between drama and anecdote. It doesn’t help that Mr. Cale is often more compelling when playing other people than when playing himself...Under Mr. Falls’s delicate direction, Mr. Cale makes complicated creatures of them all...The variety of colors Mr. Cale is able to wring out o...
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June 27th, 2019
"David Cale gets harrowingly personal in the musical memoir We're Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time (⭐⭐⭐)"
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June 27th, 2019
"Cale has a voice that warbles, strains, flutters, cracks, and soars. He’s not going for flawless or classical or even consistently beautiful. What he’s got is character — a depth and range of expression and a life force that pours out of him like the frothing mouth of a river...Cale’s play isn’t...
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June 27th, 2019
"The unprepossessing, balding Cale is no great shakes as a singer, and the songs feel more like musical fragments than fully formed numbers. But the score, coupled with Cale's soulful, impassioned delivery, casts a quiet spell, enhanced by the gorgeous chamber music arrangements played by musicia...
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