At a time when most of our lives thrive in colors and shine, making them instagramably uploadable – both filtered and untrue, Duncan Macmillan’s LUNGS takes on the opposite. As a matter of fact, it peels off the common pretence of our own beautiful lives, thriving only on the black and the white, utilizing the power of words, and putting in its center a man and a woman in an hour and a half series of intimate conversations and stichomythias that flash-forward to months, years and decades.
As the conversations unfold, we soon learn that this is, at its simplest, a love story at the end of the world. Yet in its core is an ethical discourse condensed in a minimal platform through a 90-minute running time.
One day, while on queue at an Ikea store, M asks his girlfriend W the prospect of them having a baby. W is surprised, busting out, “it’s like you punched me in the face and asked me a math question!” Though she soon regained her composure after a highly tensed monologue, we catch a glimpse of both her psyche and M’s stance on what seems to be an obscure probability.
Thus begins M and W’s journey, as they initially dissect the chances of giving birth to another human being. Living at the time when there is an average of 21.5 million people being forcibly relocated across the globe as brought about by climate change, both contours the possible future for a soon-to-be-conceived offspring.
In the following scenes — which appear to be sudden flashforwards — mostly episodic, often fragmental — we journey with M and W as they face the hard truths brought about by their decisions and circumstances.
Jake Cuenca, in his professional theater debut, plays the immensely attached M. Cuenca surprises his audiences with his undeniable presence as he outlines the male ego in the seemingly bare, yet well-lighted Jodee Aguillon platform. Though at times, he mumbles his lines to indistinct effect, he compensates so gorgeously in most of his scenes, occasionally making the crowd laugh at M’s sarcasm and nuances . And as his character develops, Cuenca manages to pull our focus, offering an intimate, yet instinctual character which polarizes rather smoothly from his counterpart.
Ever since I’ve read LUNGS, I have always wondered how W’s character could manage to maintain such demand for energy, action and breathless litanies on stage, and Sab Jose satisfies as the female counterpart, by being a class of her own. As W, she captures the Spotlight Black Box with her occasionally neurotic, and frequently intimate W, thus establishing such needed characterization and the desired milieu for both personas. Jose balances this 90-minute duet and completes the entire evolution of Macmillan’s argument and narrative.
Director Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan choreographs M and W with careful regard to balance and focus. His vision to narrate Mamillan’s discourse about two souls in search of meaning, unity and purpose comes clear through the fenced Spotlight platform.He strategically guides our attention from M to W, and vice versa. Through his guided direction, we soon find ourselves ready, comfortable and understanding despite the absence of a scenic backdrop.
Both educated, Macmillan’s M and W both thrive on varying discourses that intellectualize almost anything that is instinctual. This is where LUNGS’ core comes into play. While both work on rationalizing pregnancy in a fading world, we get to pose those same questions for ourselves and logically juxtapose our own lives with the varying conflicts on stage.
And on it goes — swinging its discourses from sexual politics to adoption, from miscarriage to differences, from countless personal fears to moments of intimacies, all through which couples — or people, for that matter — negotiate a surrender to the unknown, and arrive at the decision to give chance to whatever lies ahead.
The Sandbox Collective’s staging of LUNGS clearly outlines Macmillan’s argument on inessential rationalizations. Life and instinct soon overcome our need to intellectualize the present just to satisfy our logic. Like us, M and W find greater meaning when they embraced their humanities, breathing deeper and accepting that life and love – despite whatever circumstance – still find a way.
Which, in a way, is a very good thing.