Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs is the antithesis of the large-scale, elaborately designed productions -- think Wicked or Les Misérables or Flashdance -- that hit the stages at South Florida’s performing arts centers.
Lungs is theater at its most stripped down and simple: two actors on a barren stage, no props, no costume changes, artful lighting and sound. But as the new production of Lungs by the Theatre at Arts Garage so vividly demonstrates, a minimalist production of a gloriously acted, astutely directed play trumps many a big Broadway hit for emotional impact.
Macmillan, a young British playwright, wants his play to be done the way that director Louis Tyrrell and actors Betsy Graver and Cliff Burgess have brought it to life. The words and the couple’s journey are the thing in Lungs, which centers on an endlessly discussed and dissected decision about whether to bring a baby into an ecologically imperiled world.
The would-be parents in Lungs -- she’s called “W” in the program, he’s “M,” but they never use names with each other -- live together but aren’t married. The play begins with an episode as they stand in a check-out line at IKEA, the woman expressing loud, incredulous shock at her man’s sudden suggestion that it’s time to reproduce. They plunge into a discussion that carries them (and us) through 85 fascinating minutes, through passing years, surprises, twists, joy, loss. Through life, in other words.
That this aspiring musician and his Ph.D. candidate partner are temperamentally different is clear from the get-go. He is generally calm, rather remote emotionally, a guy willing to take a risk without too much analysis. She’s intense, sometimes bordering on manic, unfiltered as she works through everything from whether they ought to increase their carbon footprint by bringing another human into the world to how her stoic guy is failing to guess and meet her emotional needs. So the rollercoaster path of their relationship comes as no surprise, though it does contain shocks.
Tyrell, Graver and Burgess deliver Lungs with absolute, impressive clarity. Shifts in place, time or action are accomplished with changes in the actors’ positions onstage, alterations in vocal tone or looks that speak volumes, as when the two communicate sexual satisfaction after an impulsive romp in a public place.
Graver and Burgess, both nominees for the upcoming Carbonell Awards, do some of their finest work in Lungs. Theirs is a journey of hairpin emotional turns, highs and lows, and it requires a believable bond between the two, an intense connection these excellent actors convincingly deliver. Mapped out by Macmillan, guided and shaped by Tyrrell, the resonant and relatable journey through life in Lungs is a moving, intense and thought-provoking ride.