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Brooke Bloom and Ryan King give excellent performances in Duncan Macmillan's wrenching new play about a couple facing impending parenthood at Barrington Stage 2.

Brooke Bloom and Ryan King in Lungs
(© Kevin Sprague)
Lungs, now at Barrington Stage Company Stage 2, is a rather oblique title for Duncan Macmillan's examination of a couple's grappling with the prospect of parenthood. Staged by Aaron Posner on a bare stage, per the author's instructions, the work is by turns surprising, wrenching, comic, and thoughtful.

The simplicity extends to the characters, M (Ryan King) and W (Brooke Bloom), who represent angst-ridden Man and Woman. As the play opens, W has gone emotionally berserk at M's suggestion that they have a baby. M is alternately dumbfounded and bemused by her over-the-top reactions.

Macmillan's script consists of frequently unpunctuated dialogue. W, for instance, has a romantic notion of motherhood --"of myself with a bump and glowing with that motherly or pushing a stroller or a crib with a mobile above it." Fortunately, Bloom and King respond to the textual challenges by shaping the words into a sort of music, using pauses, overlaps, and variations of pitch and tone.

Lungs gets its name partly from its characters' concern with social issues such as overpopulation and putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and partly from their own incessant talking and self-examination. These characters are constantly overthinking everything .

For example, W explains her opposition to M's idea of having a child by saying "there's seven billion people or so there's too many people so really the right thing to do the ethical thing to do is to not contribute to that." Then, the masculine but sensitive M tries to backpedal and see her point of view, but not without putting his foot in his mouth: "if we're being honest really, teenage mothers in tracksuits with cigarettes in their mouths pushing their strollers in the road without thinking … feeding them junk food being a grandma by thirty…"

Because the playwright is male, perhaps it's inevitable that there's a slight imbalance in one's sympathy for the characters. M often seems to be victimized by W's silences and her expectations that he should instinctively know how to behave toward her in any situation, from miscarriage to infidelity.

King is superb when M declares he has kissed someone else at work and tries to use the incident to explain that he's discovered how much he loves W, but he's only set himself up for a brutal reproach. W's emotional swings and irrationality are initially charming -- and they provide Bloom with an acting tour de force -- but eventually her character becomes exasperating. Some tedium gradually creeps into the stylized exchanges as well.

At the end, though, a series of one-line scenes with apocalyptic overtones brings their lives to a close. It's a measure of the actors' success that one is sorry to see the last of M and W.

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