In his script for Lungs, playwright Duncan Macmillan states it is to be performed on a bare stage, without scenery, furniture, props, and no mime. Going further, he also insists “light and sound should not be used to indicate a change in time or place.” Without the usual trappings of typical theatre productions, it is therefore up to the two actors to create a believable world in which they inhabit.
Often these types of shows are simply an exercise with actors given an opportunity to stretch and exercise their artistic muscles, and where the audience is an afterthought. Fortunately, this is not the case in the Saint FiFi Collective production currently playing inside the tiny Dusty Flower Pot Studio in Mount Pleasant. Instead, under the direction of Christy Webb, actors Fei Ren and Alec Santos prove it is possible to effectively have both.
In our recent interview with the creative team, the emphasis was placed on a single aspect of Macmillan’s Lungs, in which a couple struggles with reconciling their desire for a child and the environmental impact that decision would bring. But while the environment does play heavily into this story, Lungs is a whole lot more. It is also a story of love. And despite its serious undertones, it is also very funny.
Taking us on an almost life-long journey of two people not only looking for a purpose but for connection as well, Macmillan finds a mostly satisfying balance. But even as the playwright does get a little repetitive, thanks to the wonderfully skilled performances from Ren and Santos, this production not only finds its heart but sustains it as well.
Ren is particularly good here, which is a good thing since she does a lot of the heavy lifting in Macmillan’s script. Known simply as “W”, Ren is given little time to rest, moving and talking almost non-stop through the 85-minute show. Her transition from a younger neurotic mother-to-be to a mature woman, in the end, is remarkable.
Not to say Santos doesn’t hold his own. Far from it. With Macmillan’s satisfying decision to focus on the female side of the relationship, it is up to his character “M” to support. But don’t take support to mean he isn’t required to create a fully-fleshed character, which he does with both clarity and believability.
Director Webb provides some wonderful moments on stage for the two, not an easy task with virtually all theatrical crutches removed. With the passage of time a big part of what makes Lungs so interesting overall, Webb creates beautifully realized smaller versions of this concept inside the whole; one filled with anxious movement mid-way through, and the other a stationary tableau that is equally as tender towards the end.
Given the intimacy of the piece, as if we are eavesdropping on the lives of these two characters, bringing the actors closer to the audience by utilizing the stage’s apron may have enhanced our connection. Recognizing the Dusty Flower Pot venue would make it problematic for this production, it is easy to see why others have been performed in-the-round.
With few options during the relatively quiet summer theatre season, Vancouver audiences should take advantage of this opportunity. With two stellar performances, only nine more shows, and limited seating, I suggest you book your tickets for Lungs now.
Lungs by Duncan Macmillan. Directed by Christy Webb. On stage at the Dusty Flower Pot Studio (2050 Scotia St, Vancouver) until August 31. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets.