by Sarah Haley
Tucked away in the library of the Arts Court, a 2018 Fringe favourite, Lungs, returns. Written by British Playwright Duncan Macmillan, Lungs tells the story of a couple discussing childbirth and its personal and ethical ramifications. Equally funny and heart-wrenching, this Cart Before the Horse remount is honest and emotional. Under the direction of Paul Griffin, Lungs may have a few hiccups, but it tells a relevant story in a way integrates set and story without sacrificing its message.
As the young couple, Megan Carty and Matt Hertendy show great chemistry, weaving arguments and tender moment together flawlessly. It is a raw performance, that happens at a breakneck speed, jumping from one thought to another. Yet, with the exceptions of a few rough patches and some awkward delivery, the flow is never sacrificed. A long story with a short denouement, it is a roller-coaster. But sometimes the ride can be too fast- continuing on without leaving enough time to digest the heavy emotional storyline.
In this production, the small dark library becomes even more intimate as the audience is seated so as to frame a single corner. Carty and Hertendy use the small space masterfully, conjuring a myriad of locations through their physical presence. From the impatience of being in a line at Ikea to the anxious anticipation of waiting on results in a bathroom, the small corner is easily transformed. However, in a similar vein to the summer production at the Ottawa Fringe, the small space gives little reprieve from the constantly fraught story. While the humor works well to divert from the serious undertones of the play, the constant close proximity of the actors and the audience undercuts the humorous diversions.
However, the mild claustrophobia of the script and the setting underscores the story well. The audience literally backs the characters into a corner, creating a metaphorical commonality. The difficult questions and comments raised in the performance give a sense of a couple being backed into a corner while searching desperately for an exit plan. The corner could be implemented better in the staging to visually emphasize the story. Nevertheless, the minimal set is used well, with only two theatre blocks to represent the setting and the relationship. Coinciding with the start of the play, Carty and Hertendy push the blocks together as they begin to discuss having a child. As their relationship decays, the blocks are pushed away, using the physical distance to represent the emotional distance. Just as the blocks are pushed away, they return together as the relationship ameliorates.
Paul Griffin’s apt direction marries both the set and the blocking to the actors’ performances, and while it does not always reach its full potential, it creates a striking connection to Macmillan’s text and the difficult issues the playwright attempts to tackle. It feels very raw as if the play is a snapshot into the personal lives of the characters. At the same time, this story is also a cautionary tale. The characters are selfish and self-centered; they make messy mistakes because of what they want, despite the external consequences. Nonetheless, it is a human story with very humanized characters at its core, and this is what allows us to empathize with the characters’ sometimes grim outlook towards their futures.
The decision to have a child is difficult. Yet, while this conversation might seem to only pertain to cisgendered heterosexual couples on the surface, Lungs remains harrowingly relevant in how Macmillan questions and explores the ethical issues of having a child. Is it better to not procreate? Which people are “good enough” to raise the next generation? And hypothetically, should some people be stopped from reproducing- for the betterment of the future of humankind on the planet Earth? This thought experiment is quickly rebuked; however, the unethical discussion could be discredited with more fervour, as Canada’s dark history of forced sterilization is still very real. The big question about reproduction is not only how a child will affect the status quo for a couple, but how the ramifications of procreation affect the whole world through our ecological footprints.
As Carty’s character explains in a diatribe, a child produces as much CO2 as the Eiffel tower weights- and that would essentially mean giving birth to the Eiffel tower. The consequences of having children are not just ethical, but environmental as well. As we rush closer and closer to impending ecological disasters, the play’s relevance is striking. To emphasize this and to offset the environmental costs of theatre, Cart Before the Horse has teamed up with Nature Lab to make performances carbon neutral. It is a new initiative for Ottawa theatre, and one that will hopefully have a lasting impact, both on the environment and the direction of Ottawa’s theatre scene. It is a gripping and reflective production which runs the Arts Courts Library until January 20th.
by Duncan Macmillan
Produced by Cart Before the Horse Theatre
Directed by Paul Griffin
Featuring Megan Carty and Matt Hertendy
Playing at Arts Court (Library) January 10th-13th and 17th-20th
Sarah Haley is a student at Carleton University. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with concentrations in Medieval Studies and Theatre.