With only two actors on a bare stage with a cubed lighted frame, no costume changes, no music nor sound design, and no intermission, the Sandbox Collective’s production of Duncan Macmillan’s ‘Lungs’ is a demanding show that commands your rapt attention.
Sab Jose and Jake Cuenca play an unnamed couple who have a conversation that spirals into a maelstrom of questions, anxieties, feelings, and love over the course of a lifetime within a 90-minute running time. The conversation begins right at the middle and it’s about having a baby, and this sparks an almost never-ending dialogue between the two.
And at first, it’s funny. The woman is rambling, a ball of nerves, barreling through the ‘conversation’ as she barely leaves any room for the man to speak as he tries to calm her down and settle her. But without any real cue, the scene shifts almost imperceptibly since there are no costume changes and no change in scenery, and the conversation has moved to a different location and time has passed and the emotions have turned.
The play goes on like this, sometimes the shifts are just moments from the last, or sometimes days or weeks, and there is barely discernible transition except lighting cues and Jose and Cuenca’s ability to throw themselves into the current moment.
And, as I said, at first it’s funny. You relate to the fears, the questions that pop up are questions that you might have asked or wondered yourself or heard someone else speak up about before. They talk about raising a baby and how it affects the environment and the kind of parents they’ll be. They talk about growing older and becoming more financially stable. They talk about each other’s parents and about how they feel about each other.
The most interesting thing about this play is how it strips away these characters from any discernible characteristics except their anxieties and fears about having a child. We don’t know their names. We barely hear about their world outside of each other. Just a few snippets here and there, but this play is entirely just about them and this topic, and it’s dazzling to see one’s humanity in relation to society removed entirely to focus on a human being’s biological impulse to procreate.
It’s so very human that it’s startling. ‘Lungs’ is raw emotion laid bare in front of us and there’s no place Jose and Cuenca can hide. The audience is set up around the stage and the cube lighted frame gives the feel that the two are in some aquarium and we are there to witness them come together, fall apart, and find each other again in this conversation that snowballs into a larger theme entirely.
Because they aren’t really talking about just having a baby. With all the other factors that they bring in about having one or not and the almost cynical, almost jaded tone about the world we live in today, the play asks more than simply, ‘Is it right to bring in a child in this world today?’ Veritably, watching Jose and Cuenca hash out all the feelings that this conversation brings, I think the play actually taps into the question: ‘what reason do human beings still have to stay on this planet?’
The answer is simple, though. And it’s there at the very end of the play, whispered in the very last line.
Jose and Cuenca are captivating on stage, utterly committed to each other and it makes this play so enjoyable to watch. From the story structure alone, this is Sab Jose’s play. She’s the driving force. She plays the rather hard-to-like woman, with all her frenetic and chaotic energy, with relentless fire. She is domineering, confused, and fragile all at the same time and it’s a fascinating display of commitment. Jake Cuenca is such a generous actor, he delivers a softness, an earnestness that is genuine and true and is very far from the roles he usually portrays on screen.
And while the play is highly verbose, almost rapid-fire in its back-and-forth, it is in the quiet moments, the few instances when the couple actually reflect on their emotions that the play soars. Jose and Cuenca are so in it that we feel the conflict raging inside.
Director Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan has done an amazing job at getting the two actors at the right emotional space and a level of trust to bring this play to life.
Take a deep breath before you watch ‘Lungs’ because you’ll be out of breath when it’s done and you’ll be glad for it.
'Lungs' runs until October 7, 2018, at Power MAC Center Spotlight, Level 2 Circuit Lane, Circuit Makati. To book your tickets, click here.