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

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