Presented by Verb Theatre, Duncan MacMillan’s gripping play Lungs stages the story of F (Anna Cummer) and M (Kyle Jespersen), a well-educated couple in their thirties. One day, while in line at Ikea, M puts forward the idea of having a child. From this moment, a turbulent, uninterrupted conversation surrounding the ramifications of bringing a baby into the world – a world already strained for resources – begins and follows into the next several days, months, and years.
Per MacMillan’s explicit stage instructions, there is no set nor are there any props. What there is plenty of though is a lot of talk, and a lot of talk about talking.
Over and over again, F justifies to herself (and M) why the couple should not bring a child into the world. Think of the environment, F says, citing the impact one whole person’s carbon footprint has on the Earth. Then, switching her position, F reasons why the couple are allowed to have a child, citing primarily the fact they are not only are they good people, but they are also very aware.
The whole play reads as a sharp criticism of slacktivism. F and M self-identify as well-informed citizens based off how much they (claim to) read. And that is enough for them to separate themselves from the masses. In other words, because the couple knows better, then they cannot be part of the problem. F and M equate not only knowledge with responsibility, but also as a form of action in itself. Unfortunately, for all their awareness, they fail to participate in any meaningful action to help the world. They only talk about what they have done or plan to do – the latter being subject to whether or not they have a child.
And it is this shallow satisfaction with themselves that sets the couple up for heartbreak when they are hit hard, very hard, with the realization that the world is indifferent to them, no matter how many trees they intend to plant.
In this way, MacMillan reflects back to us our growing complacency in the digital age. For MacMillan, awareness is not enough. Using a hashtag or sharing a video is only a small step in creating change. In this world, which goes on with or without us, what truly matters is action; knowledge put in practice.
With regards to the script, MacMillan offers no escape from what is born out of a simple conversation. He holds nothing back in this emotional roller coaster that punches forward on a track bent in every direction, leaving its audience speechless by the end.
And thankfully, Cummer and Jespersen match the velocity of MacMillan’s fearless script. Cummer is fantastic in drawing out so many emotions from the audience. And there is this one powerful moment, which demands to be seen, where Cummer simply nails it. Never has a theatre gone so quiet. And Jespersen is there with Cummer every step of the way. Rarely do a pair respond to and match so well what the other brings to the table.
Running at Motel Theatre, Verb Theatre’s arresting production of Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs is one not to miss.
Verb Theatre’s production of Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs runs at Motel Theatre (Arts Commons), Feb 5-14, 2015.
For more information on the show and how to purchase tickets,