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Lungs, it’s called. As in, you need two pairs of really strong ones to perform British playwright Duncan Macmillan’s new two-hander, wherein for 95 uninterrupted, forever-interrupting minutes, a young couple yakety-yaks with, to, over, and past one another at an Eminem-esque clip, barely pausing to blink, much less breathe. We meet W and M (Brooke Bloom and Ryan King) in the Ikea phase of their relationship, a few seconds after He has offhandedly suggested to She that maybe, perhaps, hypothetically, They might one day want to have a baby—a proposition that, as she points out, carries an exorbitant environmental price tag, along with all the other, more immediate problems. Their real-time checkout-line quarrel gradually accelerates into a cosmic locution about fidelity and obligation and loss, occasionally leaping hours, then months, then eventually decades ahead in the space between commas. It’s to Bloom and King’s considerable credit that you come away admiring the conviction and sensitivity of their performances, rather than the athleticism. They’re fantastic.
Compressing a lifetime into a single-serving mode of expression is like viewing an object under a microscope. The result almost can’t help but seem profound and a little horrifying. That’s not to say that Macmillan doesn’t earn his profundity and horror as he fast-forwards us through W and M’s shared life. He does. In a program note, the playwright recounts completing his first draft in a single day. Refinements during the revision and rehearsal process—Macmillan worked onsite with veteran director Aaron Posner and the cast—dampened none of the manic energy.
Lungs, concurrently making its world premiere at Studio and two U.K. theatres, is a superb choice to inaugurate the former’s Lab series, intended to offer bare-bones productions of new plays at bargain prices. In this case, bare-bones refers only to the physical production. To call Luciana Stecconi’s set “minimalist” would be too grand: It’s a stylized wooden platform with a light-panel positioned at each corner. No furniture, no props, nothing for an actor to fuss with or hide behind. It’s a good approach—scenery changes would only slow things down—but one wonders if all Studio Lab productions will be staged this way. That might not be a bad thing. With material and performances this rich, two characters talking to one another is all you need. The rest is, you know, silence.