Focus on Dialogue: Privacy put on stage

Friday May 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- If you've ever shopped with a mate you know Ikea is the kind of place that can loosen the screws of any relationship.

Ikea, as it happens, is where we meet the protagonists of Duncan Macmillan's play "Lungs" which began previews Wednesday in the St. Germain Stage at Barrington Stage Company's Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center at 36 Linden St., where it officially opens Sunday afternoon.

While shopping, the male character decides it's time for baby talk, as in, should they have one?

Issues within the play that spiral out of the exploration of this one question include sex, economic collapse, financial instability, overpopulation, uprisings, morality, and death. And, yes, it''s a comedy.

"I think there's also something funny about putting the kind of conversations we've all had in private on stage," Macmillan said via an e-mail exchange from his home in London. "However awkward, frustrating or unpleasant they are when they actually happen to us, when we see other people going through it and recognize ourselves in their behavior from the comfort of a theater seat it's hilarious."

Barrington Stage artistic director Julianne Boyd brought "Lungs" to open BSC's newly named St. Germain Stage season at the suggestion of Aaron Posner, who directed last year's hit production of Chaim Potok's "My Name is Asher Lev."

Posner directed the "Lungs" world premiere, starring Brooke Bloom and Ryan King, at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. last fall.

Now, Bloom and King are making their Barrington Stage Company debuts reprising their roles as W and M, as Macmillan refers to them in the script.

"I chose the two most interesting and most honest actors I could find," Posner said of the cast during a recent rehearsal break. "In the hands of lesser actors I don't know this play would work this way."

Performed in 90 minutes without an intermission, the play requires its actors to abandon all of the theater's standard creature comforts. Macmillan, making a conscious decision to fix the audience's attention on the play's dialogue, instructs on page one of the script, "This play is written to be performed on a bare stage. There is no scenery, no furniture, no props and no mime. There is no scenery, no props, no mime."

No, that was not a redundancy.

And yes you read that correctly.

The play begins in an Ikea -- the mecca of build-it-yourself furniture -- with nary a stool to sit on.

"No scenery, no props, no mime." It is the play's mantra; a mantra its actors and director embraced, although not readily. Posner said initial rehearsals were conducted with props, which were, through trial and error, eliminated.

"I did not trust that that was possible I didn't trust I could keep it consistently interesting and different. It turns out (Macmillan) was right about everything," Posner said with a relieved smile.

While uncomfortable to explore initially, Posner, Bloom and King joked about their sparse reality during a recent rehearsal break.

Macmillan admits his play requires a lot from its actors and that it likely leaves them feeling exposed. But he said it serves a purpose.

"I love actors and I wanted to write something which em powered them, which put them through the mill and which had nothing else getting in the way, something that they could own and which would allow them to be a real tour de force," he stated.

Having been grist for the mill for its fall run in Wash ington, D.C., both Bloom and King said they were grateful to have the opportunity to re-discover the work for Barrington Stage Company.

"I've worked on a lot of new plays it makes you feel really attached to it in a different way," King said. "But for the first time for a long time I had a very strong emotional reaction (to this script.)"

M's initial query spawns a host of others for the thirtysomething couple; questions such as "Will I be a good parent?" "What will my legacy be?" "Am I a good person?" "What sort of world will our children inherit?"

"That's the play -- this little conversation that eventually comes to span a lifetime," said Macmillan.

Perhaps, then, the question is where will life take them?


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