The Wilbury Group’s marvelous Lungs

Oh, baby
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  October 17, 2012

WHAT TO DO? Hancock-Brainerd and Dulude.


If Lungs doesn't leave you out of breath, you're ready for competitive sprinting. The Wilbury Group staging of this transfixing two-person play by Duncan Macmillan, directed by Steve Kidd (through October 27), is a don't-dare-miss-it masterwork of the current season.

It's such a riveting play and production that it can cavalierly dispense with customary theatrical aids. Not only does it forgo scenery and props, it also does without the subtle guidance of lighting. The house lights are on throughout, just like in real life. The performance space isn't a black box that eliminates distractions but rather a square just a few steps on each side, bordered by three rows of footlights to remind us that this is a theater as well as an old mill building.

The subject of the intermission-free 90 minutes is both simple and complex: a young couple considering whether or not to get pregnant, and the consequences thereof, such as discussing whether it's advisable, or even conscionable, to bring another human being into the world.

The unnamed woman (Rachel Dulude), is admirably capable of explicating the dilemma to her partner and us. Thinking aloud more than conversing, she's a torrent of observations, recollections, anticipations, and anxieties that would sweep away the poor guy (Jed Hancock-Brainerd) if he didn't just stand there like a boulder.

What a challenge, for Dulude especially. She has to control the pace and emotional ebb and flow not only of her character but of the play's entire dramatic arc. She frequently speaks in sentence fragments, which is appropriate for her disconnected thoughts and her excitable personality. For his part, Hancock-Brainerd is no slouch, although that could describe his character much of the time. He doesn't get as much to say, not by a long shot, though toward the end a couple of interesting monologues fill out our appreciation of him. The actor has to remain alert to his partner's nuances, conveying reactions as much in his eyes as through his words. Tough job. He deserves a bonus.

The setting changes are signaled deftly, sometimes just by taking a step or abruptly shifting mood. One moment they're talking normally in their apartment, the next they raise their voices and they're in a nightclub.

He is a musician with a part-time job in a used record store; she's going for, and eventually receives, a PhD in an unnamed subject. He's the one bringing up the notion of having a kid for the first time. They are in an IKEA, and she immediately gets excited by the thought, though at first in a frantic way rather than pleased by the idea. When she stops freaking out, she admits that ever since she was a little girl there was "an image I had of myself, with a bump." She imagines the tiny little socks but also "the vomit."

They come to agree that it's so enormous a decision that people would never have a kid if they thoroughly thought it through. After all, we might destroy the planet before the century's out, so how can we in good conscience put someone through that? But then again, they might be creating some him or her who could be the one to save the world.

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