by Duncan Macmillan
Cart Before the Horse Theatre
75 min / Drama, Physical / PG
Lungs is an intimate, merciless, 90-minute two-hander about a couple deciding whether they should have a child, and how their decisions and mistakes shape their whole lives. The script has received high praise, and it’s a challenging pair of roles for performers Megan Carty and Matt Hertendy. Fortunately, they’re up to the task.
Duncan Macmillan’s writing in Lungs is exceptional and deserves all the praise it’s garnered. It’s snappy and clever, brutal and honest, hilarious and vicious. Carty plays a woman finishing her PhD, intelligent but overwhelmed by anxiety and neurosis that pours out of her in a torrent of unfinished sentences and rapidly changing convictions. Hertendy is a listless aspiring musician in earth tones and a grampa sweater, weathering her monologues while coiled around his own deep insecurities. It’s all rationalization and self-awareness of that rationalization, flipping back and forth between their own contradictory ideas and repositioning to criticize each other or draw each other back in. Bludgeoning truths are immediately retracted, cruel barbs turn into genuine revelation—it’s messy and real, and very funny.
This show rests heavily on the performers’ shoulders, as there’s no room for a break. They’re almost always talking, often at the same time, and sometimes they’re yelling or screaming. Good, subtle direction helps deliver this intensity—small but clear changes in position evoke entire scene changes, even as the conversation continues unbroken between contexts. But their dynamic is the core of the show, and it comes together to create a convincing picture of a relationship that… well, I’m still not sure what I think of it. I’m as uncertain as they are, with all their dysfunction and conflict blended with growth and regression. That’s the mark of authentic characterization.
The whole show plays out over a background of anxiety over climate change and carbon footprints, become more and more intense as we move through time, and the show’s conclusion is harrowing on both levels. The performers and the audience were both drained after this show, but the applause was immediate and enthusiastic, and well-deserved. Go see it, but brace yourself.
Lungs by Duncan Macmillan is being performed in Knot Project Space inside Arts Court (2 Daly Ave) until Sunday June 24, 2018. Tickets Cost $12. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe.