At Havana Theatre until December 14
Posted on December 5, 2013
Lungs will hit a lot of childless, 30-something couples right where they’re at: to have a baby or not to have a baby. The clock is ticking for women who may, in their thirties or early 40s, just be hitting their stride. Dropping out of hard-won careers – even for a short time – can be risky. And then if a woman takes maternity leave, goes right back to work and the child is raised by a nanny, is there really any point? And then there’s all the world population issues; is it ethical to reproduce when we live on a planet with dwindling resources? And what sort of world are we bringing children into: factory chickens, GMO foods, poor air quality, holes in the ozone layer, melting glaciers, acidification of the oceans – the list (if you allow yourself to wallow in it) goes on and on.
In British playwright Duncan Macmillan’s two-hander, it’s ‘W’ (the Woman) who wallows in it. ‘M’ (the Man) brings the baby-making question up casually and W (Stephanie Izsak) immediately starts hyperventilating and talking non-stop. Although she rather fancies herself with a “bump” and delivering something “small, soft and adorable”, her list of all the reasons why she and M should not get pregnant is endless. She goes into a sort of rapid, fractured, stream of consciousness that leads M (Kayvon Kelly) at one point to say, “Breathe.”
There are times in this script when it feels like a solo show because W is so bloody verbose. Verbal diarrhea comes to mind. But Izsak, a recent Studio 58 grad, is absolutely fearless. It’s like watching open-heart surgery: open the chest and there’s the heart, beating away. She’s all nerves, open and raw; W is a character that Izsak seems simply to slip effortlessly into. It’s a stellar performance.
M, apart from a few explosive outbursts – and who wouldn’t explode when confronted by the neurotic wavering of W – is the steady, stable, supportive one. Kelly is appropriately grounded and solid, barely flinching under W’s verbal assaults and offensive/defensive onslaught. (Something that’s not resolved is M’s desire to have a child but not to marry W who several times suggests they get married.)
The structure of this play is unique: the scenes are mostly short and done on a bare stage except for two, 2-step sets of stairs in a theatre-in-the-round setup. There are no blackouts or fadeouts; the scene changes are all accomplished by lighting (designed by Gerald King). Sometimes the action feels continuous but something critical has changed and you realize you are already in the next scene. Time has passed. Keep up! And while the beginning scenes, in which W expresses all her fears, feel drawn out (and you wish she’d just get on with it), the story starts to accelerate. And there are no bridging scenes: slam, you’re into the next part of the story.
W and M are well educated, hip and often condescending; they muse on whether they ought to have children because if smart people don’t reproduce, the world will end up being run (overrun) by “stupid” people. We’ve heard it; we may even have said it. They think they are “good people”, whatever that means and they want to do things “for the right reasons”, whatever those might be.
We don’t particularly like these two at first but as life happens to them and they struggle on – not logically or particularly elegantly, we come to sympathize with them. The play – like life – starts to speed up quite frighteningly. A child is born and moments later, has graduated from college. M and W grow old.
Directing Lungs for Mitch and Murray Productions, David Mackay takes this roller coaster of a play to the top of the first hill and then lets it rip. It’s a ride: sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, and always human.