Review: LUNGS

by Lynn on March 5, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer


At the Tarragon Theatre, Extraspace, Toronto. Written by Duncan Macmillan. Directed by Weyni Mengesha. Designed by Ken MacIntosh. Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne. Lighting by Kimberly Purtell. Starring: Lesley Faulkner and Brendan Gail.

Plays until March 30

Playwright Duncan Macmillan is very specific that his play Lungs be played on a bare stage with no scenery, no furniture, no props, no mime, no costume changes when the scenes change, and no light or sound cues to indicate a change in time and place. After that there are no stage directions at all.  The actors and director are on their own for this journey. The words give them context.

In 75 minutes Macmillan paints a detailed picture in small, perfect strokes of a relationship that is built on tiny moments of trust, love, confusion, anger, hurt disappointment, affection, understanding and trust.

Macmillan’s characters are called simply W (for woman, I assume) and M (for man). M has picked the most inappropriate place and time (the check-out line at IKEA) to suggest to W that they have a baby. She is so mortified she is breathless.

They love each other, sure, but they worry endlessly about the responsibility of bringing an innocent person into a world with war, strife, climate change, pollution, carbon foot prints-paw-marks-hand-smears etc. W goes on for pages, it seems, of steam of conscious musings about the decision, that the length of her sentence is almost Proustian and you wonder when she will take a breath.

When they aren’t fretting about their world, they are discussing the minutiae of the many and various decisions they have to think about: what will they do if a) happens, or b), or c). Whose parents should they tell first if news is to be told? Does her mother really hate him? They fret. They worry. They love each other.

As Macmillan writes him, M seems the more grounded, supportive of anything W is experiencing. He is there to hold her and tell her it will be ok. She is the more flighty, fragile minded. They endure rocky patches and joyful ones. Truth to tell, after all that obsessing over details, what kind of parents would they be?  He seems good father material. I wonder if she would drive the kid crazy with her examining of every question from every side, including sides that don’t even exist. Macmillan even gives us the answer gradually, naturally, perfectly.

W and M are often two characters at odds played by two actors in total synch. Macmillan’s dialogue is a careful construction of unfinished, interrupted sentences that are heard and reacted to by the other. In spite of all of the interruptions a conversation results. We know exactly what they mean because Lesley Faulkner as W and Brendan Gall as M are wonderful together. It’s like watching/hearing championship ping-pong done by masters. The flow of the whizzing dialogue is seamless; never an awkward pause in the pickup unless the playwright intended it. Faulkner is like a hummingbird of kinetic energy and gushing dialogue and a constant effort to balance all the options of W. As W matures Faulkner assumes an ease, maturity, grace. As M, Gall is quietly charming, always supportive of W, always wanting to accommodate her. When she tells him bad news for both of them he says quietly: “Oh Honey” that expresses heartache for both of them. It leaves you breathless and gasping at the same time.

This spare, exquisite production is directed with sensitivity and care by Weyni Mengesha. A slight change of body language along with the dialogue indicates a change of scene. There is never any confusion or doubt in where we are in the journey. And we are never, ever in doubt as to the love these two characters have for each other because of Mengesha’s direction. They are tactile. They touch, stroke an arm, a thigh and not in a sexual way. It’s not cloying. It’s natural.

Why the title Lungs, I wonder? Perhaps because Samuel Beckett already took the title  Breath for his epic 30 second play about birth, life and death (a smack, a baby’s cry, a breath in, a gasp out and silence). Lungs is compelling theatre, beautifully directed and acted. Breathe. Exhale. See it.

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