Watermark Theatre – April 21, 2022
English playwright Duncan Macmillan’s 2011 two-hander Lungs flies by in a fleeting 80 minutes, yet it spans a lifetime of sorts—the life of a romance, as a couple’s recurring debate over whether, when and how to have children both defines and demolishes their relationship. Equal parts social commentary and romantic dramedy, the play is enjoying a well-crafted revival at the Watermark courtesy of PEI indie drama pillar Kitbag Theatre.
Over a decade old now, Macmillan’s smart, funny, sometimes melancholy script is both timeless (via the messily compelling humanity of its bickering leads) and eerily timely (via the characters debating the morality of bringing a child into an over-polluted, over-populated, increasingly overheated world, a question that looms even larger in grimly climate-conscious 2022 than it did 11 years ago).
The play’s rapid-fire, time-jumping series of dialogues ranging from impressionistically brief snippets of text to monolithically huge rants must be a bear to memorize, so mad props to Rahul Gandhi (as “M”) and Kitbag theatre co-founder/co-producer Rebecca Parent (as “W”) for even managing to stuff all of MacMillan’s expansive verbiage into their heads, let alone bringing it as vividly to life as they do.
The Gandhi-Parent duo have engaging chemistry (both sweetly romantic and explosively volatile), and Gandhi’s “M” has a likeably hangdog energy; but Parent’s “W” shines brightest with a richly layered, subtly nuanced yet often frantically energetic performance as a pathologically conflicted woman who evokes the poetry of Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Parent’s “W” contains multitudes, and it’s a joy to watch.
Offstage players in Kitbag’s production include Watermark’s artistic director Robert Tsonos (director), Kate Hagemeyer (stage manager), Parker O’Connor (set & costume design), Pat Caron (lighting design) and fellow Kitbag founders/producers Jacob Hemphill and Melissa MacKenzie.
Tsonos, Hagemeyer and their actors keep this jigsaw puzzle of a play flowing smoothly and coherently for the most part, give or take a choppy transition or two. In terms of aesthetics and production values it’s commendably simple—everyday outfits, mostly basic lighting, and a couple of generic stools the actors can use as seats or props on occasion.
The most visually distinctive aspect of the production is O’Connor’s intriguingly abstract backdrop, an undulating series of slim vertical wooden rectangles that collectively call to mind a sound wave graph. It’s decorative but inobtrusive, and subtly thematically appropriate for a play populated by two such relentlessly talkative characters.
Also impressive is a quasi-invisible element of the production: the show’s program, a handsomely designed and user-friendly document available exclusively online via Kitbag. Stubbornly 20th Century creature that I am, I have mixed feelings about this since I do enjoy collecting physical theatrical programs; but the line between keepsake and clutter is hazier than I’d care to admit, and this sort of virtual theatrical program is more environmentally friendly (very much in the spirit of this play), not to mention handy for a reviewer in terms of providing readily accessible and easily copied text, so it’s a net positive for audiences in general and critics in particular. Nice to know some aspects of 2022 aren’t dystopian.