Sunday, December 4, 2016

"Lungs," A Romantic Play for Millennials (and Even Older Folks)

Sarah Silk and Alec Silberblatt in "Lungs" Credit: Courtesy Photo

Remember the scene in Monty Python’s "The Meaning of Life?" The one where a middle-aged, working class woman is shown standing at the kitchen sink surrounded by a gaggle of her own children and lets another newborn drop from her womb to the floor with startling nonchalance? What’s another child when you already have 36 of them the woman seems to say.

For an opposite take on the subject of child bearing, playwright Duncan Macmillan’s oft-hilarious, oft- emotionally moving "Lungs" spotlights a couple undergoing a pre-conception analysis of the ramifications of having a baby, and takes it to an uber level of scrutiny.

In the beginning, after a few nebulous moments of terpsichorean twists and turns of interpretive dance on the part of the play’s two actors, (I am still unable to see its relationship to the script), the play opens on a barren stage sans scenery or props, just like the playwright wanted.

A man (Alec Silberblatt) and woman (Sarah Silk), both millennials, in a long term relationship with no immediate intention of marrying, are standing in line at Ikea waiting to check out. Out of the blue, the man mentions the word baby, and it hits the woman like a sucker punch.

On the verge of getting her Ph.D., she freaks out and mentions weighty impacts on her career, life and body (painful breasts that lose their shape after birth not to mention changes in body parts further below). Urbane, intelligent and with-it, they both discourse over the effect another human being will have on the environment which will add an additional 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the already environmentally over-stressed Earth.

Cavorting in bare feet over a stage covered in green artificial grass (Is Astroturf a word still used today?), they over-analyze the implications of caring for another child, bringing it into a world they see as often cruel and merciless. Yet their questioning and probing stokes up ambivalent feelings that include the desire of rearing a child despite the challenges is poses.

As a working duality, the two actors have great synergy. Silk gets the lengthier monologues which she renders flawlessly despite the rapid fire and often contradictory thoughts and feelings she ruminates over and expresses to her other half. She criss-crosses her way through a maze of logic, facts, feeling and thoughts to create a certain theatrical pointillism, each dot of her narrative eventually coalescing to form a three-dimensional identity.

Silberblatt’s character is more understanding, patient and accepting of his opposite’s frenetic spontaneity, a port in the emotional storm, but even he, too, has his impetuous breaking points. Both actors are so accomplished take the audience to new plateaus of theatrical connoisseurship.

Director Spencer Whale shows great skill in blocking, moving the characters over the stage, giving the dialogue a kinetic boost, keeping the dynamics fresh and invigorating throughout the 100-minute run time. And yes, there is no intermission.
I especially appreciated Whale’s notes on the play, which are included in the play bill and discuss the issue of climate change and its relationship to the new president-elect’s administration.

It would be unwise to discuss further the outline of the plot, which would trivialize Macmillan’s finely formed, well-thought out text. Be prepared however, for a jolting change of pace near play’s end when the action is telescoped in a sequence that reminded me somewhat of a non-technical rendition of Kier Dullea’s final ride in Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey."

You probably won’t get the connection between the play’s title and the story line until the end. That’s when you’ll also come to realize that, even though the script deals with two individuals and their relationship to one another and the world in broader context, there’s also an aura of universality that hits home to everyone - millennial or not.

"Lungs," a production of Off the Wall Theater, is at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street in Carnegie, through December 17. Phone 724-873-3576.

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