Alec Santos and Fei Ren in Lungs. Photo by Christy Webb.
Alec Santos and Fei Ren in Lungs. Photo by Christy Webb.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation there are a number of ways in which an individual can help fight climate change, including taking transit, eating a plant-based diet, and consuming less. According to the Foundation, these actions may seem small, but collectively they can have a big impact.

Not surprisingly though, there is a more radical idea missing from this list: the decision to not bring another child into the world.

It is a notion, backed by a 2009 study out of Oregon State University, where the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of a having a child is almost twenty-times more significant than some of the other environment-friendly practices.

It also happens to be the set-up for Duncan Macmillan’s play Lungs, in which a thirty-something couple wrestle with their own decision about having a child in the era of climate change.

“More than simply a story about climate change and bringing a child into the world though, at the heart of Lungs is a relationship story and the trials and errors of that relationship in this modern world,” says actor Alec Santos.

"The first time I read Lungs, I fell in love with the characters’ flaws and their humanity. Raw and exhilarating, it brought me to laughter and moved me to tears. We hope to bring the audiences along with us through this journey of life and love." - Fei Ren
“The first time I read Lungs, I fell in love with the characters’ flaws and their humanity. Raw and exhilarating, it brought me to laughter and moved me to tears.” – Fei Ren

“For me it’s the story about two people growing up in a relationship and taking responsibility and overcoming their fear with love,” adds actor Fei Ren who is the second half of this two-hander. “It’s such a beautiful, poetic time lapse of a lifetime.”

Having worked together previously, Santos immediately thought of Ren after discovering Macmillan’s play.

“I couldn’t wait to work with her again,” he says. “I had her in mind when I was reading all kinds of plays, looking for one that would work for the two of us.”

Eventually landing on Lungs, the two began rehearsing before convincing Christy Webb to come out of retirement to direct, after the three met while auditioning for another project.

“It turned out to be a very lovely and timeless play,” says Webb. “I had some of the same conversations with my husband thirty years ago, but they were different issues at the time. It wasn’t so much climate change and shit, but it was about this world.”

Known simply as “M” and “W” in the play, Macmillan ups the ante between his characters in making his female character a PhD student, and the male character a musician.

“My character has to come to terms with the fact that the woman that I love, the very thing that I’m interested in her is her intelligence, and her ability to eloquently describe feelings about the world around her that make me feel at times inadequate, stupid, and ignorant,” says Santos.

“For me it plays into her insecurity with the social conditioning where I have fear around having a kid with a musician who doesn’t have a full-time job,” adds Ren. “And it becomes part of a very real discussion.”

“I know this sounds reactionary but let’s not be politically, you know, correct about this for a second, there are some people who just shouldn’t have children. They just shouldn’t.” – Duncan macmillan’s lungs

Allowing the dialogue between his two characters in Lungs to be its focus, Macmillan is very prescriptive in how his play is to be performed. Stating light and sound should not be used to indicate a change in time or place, it is to be executed on a bare stage, without scenery, furniture, props, costumes, and mime.

"It has this very intense subject matter, but it is also very funny. It really is this combination that makes Lungs so interesting." - Alec Santos
“It has this very intense subject matter, but it is also very funny. It really is this combination that makes Lungs so interesting.” – Alec Santos

“It is what makes the stage so unique,” says Santos. “I think this is one of those plays that would never be better on film or television with crazy set changes. Macmillan’s words are so descriptive, you just want to be able to listen to what he has written.”

Interestingly enough, the script the trio originally started with is not the same one audiences will see on stage.

“The new copy we received is very current and doesn’t feel like it was written in 2011,” says Webb. “It feels like it was written in 2019.”

The urgency from the playwright’s changes for this upcoming production is obviously already paying off for the team.

“Sometimes when Fei and I are running lines in public, people don’t realize that’s what we are doing and they’ll jump in the conversation,” says Santos. “On that basis alone, I really believe audiences are going to see themselves in these characters.”

Lungs opens on August 14 and runs through August 31 at The Dusty Flower Shop Studio (2050 Scotia St, Vancouver). Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets.