A young couple, identified only as W and M, are arguing in an Ikea store at the beginning of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, now showing at Miners Alley Playhouse in a regional premiere. M has just brought up the idea of having a baby; W is flummoxed, furious, amazed, intrigued, confused — and trying to sort out her feelings in a welter of partial sentences, exclamations, flights of thought. She’s always wanted a baby. She’s not sure she wants one just yet. What will a baby do to their life together? What about the terrible environmental costs of human beings’ constant breeding when each new baby causes the release of the equivalent of 10,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere?
These aren’t people who censor their thoughts — and the dialogue can be hard-core. At one point, M voices the forbidden idea that not everyone should be allowed to procreate: for instance, not “teen mothers in tracksuits with fags in their mouths, smacking their kids in supermarkets, being a gran by thirty, multiplying like rats.” What is he suggesting, W responds in horror — camps? Eugenics?
In a sense, the entire script is a prolonged conversation. In fact, the words “talk” and “conversation” repeat continually. M and W like to debate the difference; they seem to see talk as honest and direct, conversation as virtuous but diffuse. Other repetitions are “good people,” as the couple tries to decide if they deserve the appellation, and “plant forests.” This isn’t a cute, narrowly focused relationship-and-baby story: The playwright is truly concerned for the planet, and the play’s context is broad enough to eventually take in the life and death of the planet as well as individuals. M and W may sometimes be daft and almost always confused, but their debate over what it means to be a good person goes beyond the quips about composting, recycling and donating to charity that we always hear in plays by hip young playwrights mocking their own lifestyles. And, of course, planting trees is the one unequivocally good and healing step that an individual — a good person — can take.
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Despite its seriousness, Lungs is full of humor. Macmillan’s dialogue sizzles; it’s inordinately clever, full of surprising twists, turns and reversals, stylized but entirely convincing. M and W are fascinating people, twin masses of contradictions and half-digested insights. Their relationship is roiled by the usual issues: She needs to finish her Ph.D.; he should mess around less with his music and get a decent job. Whose parents should be notified first about a baby? And then we’re off into a discussion of inheritance and DNA.
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Lungs is written to be staged with no props or specific setting. Scene changes are accomplished in a flash: At one moment the couple is lamenting the fact that they never go out together anymore; within literal seconds, they’re yelling over the ear-pounding racket of a nightclub. Their baby, or at least its beginning, is conceived in a couple of minutes between two conversations that still somehow spin around the central question of should they or shouldn’t they.
I’ve seen video of Lungs performed by another company on a white, empty, boxed-in stage, but Miners Alley director Len Matheo makes a better choice: He and set designer Jonathan Scott-McKean have created a series of wooden platforms, with the shapes of trees behind them and, on the ground, a sparse fall of autumn leaves.
Even better than the set is Matheo’s inspired casting. Adrian Egolf and Luke Sorge, who play W and M, are married in real life; perhaps this partially accounts for the level of trust and daring in their work together and the wonderful pacing and timing. W is tempestuous, volatile and voluble, periodically coming out with piercingly hurtful comments that she apparently doesn’t intend as hurtful. When M doles out hurt, he speaks quietly and reluctantly, but the sting goes deeper: She’s expressing her feelings; he’s outlining the reality. Egolf is as completely original an actor as I’ve seen: tall, sweet-faced, alternately childish and volcanic — and so often very, very funny. Sorge, with his quiet strength and thoughtful presence, makes a perfect match. “You’re like an animal,” he tells her, “a hungry, wild animal, and you’re circling me and snarling, and you’re beautiful and exciting and you’re trusting me because I’m standing still, but really I’m just frozen to the spot.”
Lungs is a fine play, but these extraordinary actors create the waves of feeling and excitement that make this an unmissable production and a strong start to the Miners Alley season.
Lungs, presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through October 14, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com.