Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review: Lungs

Lungs, by Duncan MacMillan, produced by Luna Theatre, directed by Gregory Scott Campbell, featuring Charlotte Ford and David Raphaely. Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: Lungs


By Wendy Rosenfield

For the Inquirer

To breed or not to breed? That is the question facing M (David Raphaely) and W (Charlotte Ford) in Luna Theater’s production of Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs. In unremarkable clothes (jeans, sweatshirt), without props, sound design, sets or scene changes, they agonize, argue, love, leave, return, reconcile and endlessly orbit one another, the centers of their own tiny universe. MacMillan and director Gregory Scott Campbell present the simplest human situation without embellishment, and in doing so, illuminate its complexity.

If not for the clarity and honesty of Ford’s and Raphaely’s performances, this two-hander might become tedious. You’ve seen it all before, plot twists included, on television, onstage, in films, in life. But it doesn’t. Certain moments between the couple--a sleepy slow dance with Ford nestled on Raphaely’s shoulder--are so tender they ache, and the couple’s insecurities ring uncomfortably true. 

MacMillan winks at the subject’s universality; during one of the many times the two anxiously tally their own “goodness,” W reassures M, “You gave $500 to the crisis appeal when that horrible thing happened.” But just when you begin to believe MacMillan’s vision of male-female attraction is little more than a British variation on Neil LaBute’s “woman as viper” paradigm, he flips the script, with M’s good-guy veneer easily, readily punctured.

Of course, only someone who’s childless would spend so much dialogue agonizing over the theoretics and symbolism of having a child, and so little on raising the actual human, or navigating the post-partum thicket. Once W’s pregnancy is resolved, the rest of the pair’s lives flash by in a 5-minute flurry, combined with sidelong references to some future dystopian environmental event. It’s the show’s one false note, but sometimes you just write what you know, and unless you’ve been there, you might not know that after birth a relationship really starts to get interesting. 

The apocalyptic overlay also feels unnecessary. After all, just about every generation fears it will be the last. (Duck-and-cover drills, anyone?) But this relentless self-examination and such alienation from the natural world that deciding to give birth means a vote in favor of global oppression? That’s entirely contemporary, and with the help of Ford, Raphaely and Campbell this old story becomes new again.  


Playing at: Skybox at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. Through Sun., Feb. 10. Tickets: $15 to $30. Information: 866-811-41111 or www.LunaTheater.org

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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