I don’t know who showed more bravery in this production – playwright Duncan Macmillan for writing a piece of such crystalline honesty, artistic director David Muse for presenting it in its most stripped down form, or the two actors – Brooke Bloom and Ryan King – for playing this piece with no distractions, no safety net.
The set is beyond simple – a wooden floor made up of weathered wooden planks formed into large tiles, a back wall made of the same planks. No props, no decoration. Two characters, both in their 20s, male and female, dressed casually, in off the street. The dialog is painfully honest, embarrassing at times in its forthright capture of how a couple really speaks – the selfishness, the stupidity, the contradictions, the silences.
Two young people, living together, not married, on the cusp of adulthood. He is a musician; she is a PhD candidate. She pushes her views on the environment, on the proper role of humans in the world, pressing her enlightened idea on how to live, how to love, how to be adult and sophisticated, how to be learned and aware, without ever demonstrating wisdom or awareness. He is quiet, watches, her rock, her balance, following her, reading her books, loving her, and propping her up, but his watchfulness betrays a fear, a lack of will, an innocence that hides a regular guy thrilling to the tidal pull of an intellectual dervish.
The dialog is delivered as they go through their daily lives. It starts with a question – he asks it, naïve, loving, hoping for something. She was probably pretty sure he’d never ask – and if anyone ever would, it’d be her. She reacts as an over-intellectualizing but extremely immature person would, with her neuroses and fangs bared. You can guess what the question is (look at the poster). Her ensuing elliptical monolog in response, him watching, her talking, pacing, almost tested my patience. But something locked me in. I wanted to know.
The author’s ease – his ability to shift the scene, the time, and the place effortlessly, without the any of the typical artifice of the stage: “two characters, in a car, the driver watches for other cars, steering an invisible steering wheel, occasionally shifting a sideways glance at the passenger.” There’s nothing like that. They face us during certain tasks, each other at other times, and away during still others. There’s an effortless, artifice-less way of showing the subtle jumps in time that we’re seeing. “You’ve been sitting there all day, come to bed…it’ll be getting dark soon…it’ll be getting light soon,” all delivered within seconds – the fleeting moments.
I remember being in a car with my loved one, fighting, and looking back, I don’t remember the car, the driving, the seats or the doors – it’s as though we were facing each other. That’s how Lungs tells the stories. It’s extraordinary to watch. Two people, in love, facing the (easy) big question couples face and everything that goes with that. And, it’s funny. Post coitus as two characters on the floor, separate, on their backs, breathlessly laughing. The intensity is cut with comedy, but sometimes amped up to a nearly unbearable point.
And then the quiet one speaks. Their timing is impeccable, the emotions feel real; it’s almost impossible to separate myself from what I’m watching. When he finally explodes – several times, with frightening intensity – to cut through her slurry of words, “I’m just thinking out loud,” she keeps saying – it almost shocks me into tears. His simple honesty and desires, her constant (mis)calculations about how life is, how it should be, how he feels, how she feels – it’s almost always wrong, and, in this play, always right.
The end reminded me so much of the Waves by Virginia Woolf, I couldn’t breathe. Two characters, talking without pause, but you know they are growing older, years as seconds before your eyes, describing a life passing in fleeting moments, touching repetitions, significant moments. Macmillan uses the simplest of touches to illustrate the most momentous change and I thought I would die of the pure beauty, simplicity, and sadness of what I was watching.
After the play, I saw Ryan crossing 14th Street, hurrying off to something else. The only thing he changed was his sneakers. An older couple said something – a compliment, obviously, and he shook his head shyly, thanking them before walking away, pleased and embarrassed. I don’t know if I could have said anything to him – how does one slip into and out of such an affectless show of control, bravura acting, 90 straight minutes of pure dialog and pacing and moving and moving us?
LUNGS is playing @ Studio Theatre. FOR MORE DETAILS-go here.