From the first line of New Rep’s current production of “Lungs”, the Boston area premiere of the 2011 comedy by Duncan MacMillan, it’s clear that this work will be a breath of fresh air. The question, “A baby?”, is the launching pad for a hilariously human “conversation” between two unmarried partners, identified only as M (Nael Nacer, so indelibly memorable for this season’s opener, “Kite Runner”) and W (Liz Hayes, so wonderful in “Collected Stories”). As meticulously directed by Associate Artistic Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary (“Collected Stories”, “DollHouse”, “Fully Committed”), this talented pair of actors manage, in the short span of just shy of ninety minutes, to cover a lot of philosophical ground and a lifetime of perennial inquisition.
To birth or not to birth, that is the question. M has proposed, not marriage, but the possibility of their having a child together, or at least that they have the conversation, a word that appears more than once. W’s initial reaction ricochets from excitement to uncertainty to angst in a stream of hyperconsciousness that is an aural wonder to behold. Hayes nails this manic yuppie type, who might in a more sober work be in serious need of bipolar meds. Nacer holds his own in a less showy role that demands (and he delivers) an incredible mix of reactions that range all over the emotional map, so rapidly that it’s hard to take your eyes off him. O’Leary has fine-tuned them to the point where they seem utterly natural and believable as they constantly almost finish one another’s almost sentences. MacMillan’s machine-gun dialogue is almost Pinteresque, if Pinter had this depth of wild humor. And, beneath and beyond this wit are some fundamentally critical issues.
The basic dilemma is, of course, whether having children in an overpopulated world is justifiable or ethical, for such self-described “good people” as these. By the end of the play, there are several other topics explored, some universal, some intensely personal, from the future of the planet, global warming and one’s influence on the environment, to fidelity, commitment, miscarriage, abortion, and even death. The truly astonishing fact is that, while there are quite somber moments, this is more fun than a ton of carbon footprints.
As usual with New Rep, the technical credits are outstanding . The Costume Design by Emily Woods Hogue is right on Target, or perhaps more Gap or Banana Republic. The Sound Design (and some original gasps of music) by Arshan Gailus is restrained but effective. And, though MacMillan calls for “no sets, no props, no miming” for his play, Scenic and Lighting Designer Jen Rock has produced a wry background of bronchi and bronchioles lit with ever-changing colors, a perfect visual metaphor for what transpires (or respires) before them on stage.
While the first line of the play is a question, the last line is a statement (perhaps even the answer): “I love you.” When all is said and done, this may be what all the fuss was about, the need to find, share, and propagate love. This vital “Lungs” deserves to run at full capacity.