Encore Michigan

Kickshaw’s ‘Lungs’ – a must-see exploration of what makes us human

Review March 08, 2020 Patrice Nolan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Lungs, by English playwright and director Duncan Macmillan, begins as a discussion between a man and a woman whose relationship has evolved to the point that they are shopping in an Ikea together. The man initiates a conversation about having a baby and immediately spins their love story into a new trajectory.

Lungs plays out as a 90 minute dialog that leaps from scene to scene without pause and follows the lifecycle of this couple through everything they share: passion, anger, joy, loss, betrayal, miscommunication, hurt, rejection redemption, and abiding love.

The woman is freaked out by the implications of becoming a mother. And pretty quickly their discussion is about the ethics of raising a baby given the condition of a world that seems bent on self-destruction. Is it fair to a child to bring them into a world that’s collapsing under global warming? Is it fair to the world to introduce a new human that carries with is a colossal carbon footprint? Conversely, is it fair to humanity if good, empathetic people stop having babies, and let the world be overrun by the offspring of people who are careless and self-absorbed? Do we have a responsibility to the gene pool?

Duncan Macmillan’s dialog is hilarious but rings true, and at different points the characters have to remind each other to just breath. They are “good people” in the sense that they worry that they aren’t good enough. They obsess about the minutiae of each decision. They get stuck inside their heads and forget to listen to their bodies and their hearts. The play is as much about what is NOT said as what is.

If the actors just sat on boxes and delivered the lines, it would be worth listening. But in the amazing Kickshaw Theatre production, director Paige Conway collaborates with actors Claire Jolliffe and Nick Yocum to create something extraordinary. It’s a conversation with movement – a ballet with dialog. And in this extended pas de deux, the actors’ bodies tell us what their words struggle to convey. They say “go” when they mean “stay.” They make logical arguments about emotional decisions. They say “it’s nothing” when it’s everything. We can’t help but wonder what this play would look like with the sound “turned off” and only the movement and lighting to carry the story. The truth is hidden in plain view.

In her program notes, Conway talks about the directorial choices she made in this production. “If we were able to simply shut our brains off for even a moment, what would happen? If we can get back to our bodies, they usually know what to do, what we need.”

Jolliffe and Yocum deliver emotionally complex and physically daring performances. It’s like watching a marathon trust fall that’s performed while reciting Hamlet. The choreography is artful, gymnastic and achingly lovely. The dichotomy of intellectually ethical people grappling with their biological imperatives is fascinating, funny and heartbreaking. This is one of those plays that, while you are watching it, you think of all the people you wish could see it. And you are infinitely grateful to be there.

There is no stage in the traditional sense – the play is performed at trustArt Studios in Ann Arbor in a stark white space with long, sheer draperies hung at either end. These are used in inventive ways, as part of the choreography and as scenic pieces. Props consist of two white boxes and a foldable exercise mat that starts out as an Ikea cart and becomes a bed, a car, a bathtub and more.

Andrea Kannon stage manages, with production design by Kirk Domer (scenic), Lynn Lammers (sound & costumes), Tyler Chinn (lighting), and Joseph Lancour (assistant scenic designer).

Lungs is a refreshingly simple play on the surface, but it immerses the audience almost immediately in the complex nature of relationships. There was much laughing and some tearful sniffling. Conway, Jolliffe and Yocum earn every bit of it.

Week of 8/10/2020

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