The enormity of the decision of whether to bring a child into an already overcrowded, eco-unfriendly landscape descends upon a lone couple as they ‘start a conversation’ in the first breathe of the play, played out amusingly in an IKEA. Surprisingly it is the man, billed as “M” who breaches the subject to his counterpart “W” when societal roles might lend to expectations of the reversal. She is taken aback, to say the least, and needs ‘a second’ or longer to think it over. And thus the stage is set both literally and figuratively at The Studio Theatre’s production of Lungs.
The stage takes a page out of the IKEA catalog as it is definitely the bare minimum: no props, no scenery pieces, not even a chair or a bed on which the actors can recline. The two performer cast appear on the no larger than 20 by 20 foot wooden clapboard stage in position as the lights lift. She frequently clings to an oversized button-down sweater over a blouse atop slacks. He dons a more relaxed attire with sneakers and hoodie. The couple, who are not married yet live together at the start of the play, quickly leave IKEA to sit in solemn silence (however brief) in their car before the trip home. Without props – the audience learns on the first transition from store to car that the actors will announce the change in location through their words and/or body language. It is a definite convention of ‘tell’ not ‘show,’ because there is nothing else to denote the setting change.
I wish to give another kind of ‘props’ to the two performers. “M” played by Ryan King begins the play as genuine and lovable, who then transforms into a more confused and more carnal character. “W” played by Brooke Bloom is brash to begin with. To be frank, I often thought of the character, “Who would want to share a child with this human being?” which is a reflection on the complicated relationship between “M” and “W.”
Bloom continues well with the character’s deeply introspective journey with “M” at her heels. He reads the books she’s already footnoted. He cares about the topics she’s educated in. He secures a more lucrative job while she continues to work toward her phD. They debate their ‘good person’ status constantly. Things of worth to this couple include reading, movies with subtitles, and reducing their carbon footprint. There are several sober moments spent on how people who shouldn’t have children are having children. While at a time Bloom appears to be a bit pitchy and preachy and contradictory - that is when the other shoe drops and you realize the pregnancy confirmation is at hand. So just chalk that up to the hormones.
And like that pre-natal ebb and flow, the play fluctuates between prizing thought over feelings, and then its reversal. Playwright Duncan MacMillan addresses the issue quite well with this natural conversation. So well, that honestly any couple of the child-bearing years could have been on stage for the hour and a half relating in such a manner. And while I found 90 minutes without intermission to be a little intense (definitely not first date material), I left feeling that Lungs had done its job well of pulling on heartstrings.
Lungs runs through October 16th, at Studio Lab at The Studio Theatre – 1501 14th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 332-3300, or purchase tickets online.