Lungs may not take your breath away, but it's an intelligent juggernaut of a comedy about sex, trust, and just how many people ought to be allowed to blow carbon into Earth's moribund atmosphere. British writer Duncan Macmillan's 90-minute play is a stripped-down affair played out on a bare wood stage, backed by what look like lit-up tree roots, on which a man and a woman (dubbed M and W) consider whether to have a child when the planet is headed for the dumpster.
The conversation begins in line at IKEA, which tells us all we need to know about these educated thirtysomethings, and then intensifies through several philosophic bouts and emotional crises before skipping 40 or 50 years to arrive at a tender coda. M is a likeable, laid-back musician not unwilling to hang up his guitar to become a corporate cog; W is his more tightly wound girlfriend who is pursuing a PhD. And in Bridget Kathleen O'Leary's expressive staging for New Repertory Theatre, their exchanges — which include some badgering arias of contradictory cogitation for her — are so rich in body badinage that Macmillan's description of his play as "something between a stand-up comedy, a dance piece, and a wrestling match" seems apt.
Certainly, the global quandaries batted around by M and W are enormous (their enormity vividly commented upon), yet the play remains grounded in less-heady matters, among them fidelity and semantics. And as the moral high ground shifts between two characters desperate to have their cake and preserve the planet too, Lungs manages the neat trick of being both predictable and surprising. It is also drolly and sensitively acted by Nael Nacer and Liz Hayes. Casually if hiply costumed by Emily Woods Hogue, they alternately circle and cling to each other, capturing the piquant needs as well as the endless over-thinking of these two environmentally conscious babes in the woods. Nacer's M at first seems the nicer of the two, then surprises by proving somewhat waffling about where his heart goes. But Hayes shrinks from neither W's abrasive, myopic intensity nor her fierce heart. Lungs, of course, come in pairs, and it would be hard to get a better one than this. P
LUNGS :: Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box Theater, 321 Arsenal St, Watertown :: Through March 10 :: $36 :: 617.923.8487 or newrep.org
, New Repertory Theatre, Lungs, Duncan Macmillan