Lungs, a play by Duncan Macmillan, directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary
The Black Box Theater
The New Repertory Theatre in residence at the Arsenal Center for the Arts
February 17-March 10, 2013
March 5, 2013
No matter what the New Rep Theatre attempts in their Black Box Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, it’s likely to be entertaining, challenging, off -the-wall, unfocused, non main-stream, creative, meandering – often all within the same play. Lungs, a play by British playwright Duncan Macmillan is a case in point.
Within a long stretch of 90 minutes, Macmillan takes on global warming, overpopulation fueled by both irresponsible and planned parenthood, the burden of bringing a child into a world teeming with social and ecological ills, the toll on a relationship of raising a child, and the entire cycle of one specific relationship.
Advertised as a comedy, it feels more like a psychodrama with some really funny lines. The play blasts out of the gate with M (Nael Nacer) floating the idea of making a baby with W his live in girlfriend (Liz Hayes).
W, who happens to be writing a PhD about global warming, is wired like a human pinball machine. Wildly conflicted about the prospect, she goes into hyperdrive, rattling off non-sequiturs, one-liners citing alarming ecological statistics and mugs ferociously.
Nacer as M, offers gravity, calm reassurance, reasoned arguments while managing to check his own ambiguity about becoming a father. (Note: if couples went through this kind of dialogue before deciding to have a child, there would be about one billion fewer people on the planet.)
Hayes is really good as a stream of consciousness woman who scatters facts and figures like a blunderbuss about the fragile state of the planet and piles her ambivalent feelings about motherhood on top like so many jimmies.
Nacer, as M, can’t say much without setting W off on a tear about small scale personal responsibility of bringing a child into the world and the larger picture of a planet teetering on the brink with diminishing resources and an uncertain future for the generation about to be born.
The scenario is not far-fetched but the random way Macmillan
throws in statistics about carbon footprints, a world awash in waste, in the
midst of whether the couple should bring a baby into the world feels like
driving a square peg into a round hole, more of an erudite filler than an axis
upon which to build a hefty element of the play’s theme, which resonates with
the angst and conflicting beliefs a man and woman bring to a modern
Their riffs about the kinds of people popping out platoons of children before they’re of voting age are delightfully non-PC thoughts that liberals might harbor but these two say then feel guilty about. Interspersed with these riffs are their ideas on whether smart people procreate or whether good people create babies knowing they’re adding stress to the planet’s fragile reserves.
The tiny Black Box Theater’s 12’x12’ square stage, surrounded with audience on both sides and center, with its honey oak finish becomes their world. Subtle changes in lighting and illumination of a design suggesting tree roots behind translucent drapery behind the set is all the actors need to portray work, home, a park, a nightclub, even a taxi on the way to the hospital when W’s contractions increase.
Through dialogue and subtle gestures, Nacer and Hayes follow playwright Macmillan’s story line to perfection as the playwright cleverly charts this couple’s relationship from its inception to its demise and beyond.
We hear about the divide between M and W’s parents, the ups and downs of M’s career, W’s commitment to the planet, the breathing exercises used in childbirth, the fading romance, M's infidelity, their separate paths, children (“They grow up, start buying their own clothes, leave home and hate you,” W says.) and a touching scene from their final years. Nacer and Hayes are at their best as they portray, in a matter of seconds, the changing intersections of their lives.
Nacer’s M is steady, gutty and layered. Hayes is great at acting as a very smart neurotic time bomb in nearly every scene but during ninety minutes the role gets stuck in the same mold. A judicious trimming of dialogue would help. Perhaps director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary could have suggested some throttling back or signs of growth that would have given W more dimension.
"Lungs" breathes life into two very complicated, very modern characters.
Photos by Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures