Review: Beckham and Joplin Deliver First-Rate Performances in LUNGS

By: Sep. 26, 2016

LUNGS is a 2011 play by Duncan MacMillan that is a wickedly funny, yet touching, look at the insecurities and fears of a generation for whom apprehension and precariousness are the norm. When the concept of bringing a child into the world comes up (in of all places, IKEA), W (Liz Beckham) and M (Michael Joplin) weigh all of the consequences that surround that decision: bringing a child into a world that is perhaps irretrievably screwed up, how will they offset the carbon footprint of another life on the planet, how will it change her body, their love life, and ultimately, their relationship. All of this becomes even more complicated by the fact that they are not married.

Duncan MacMillan has crafted a remarkable play that has no set, no props and two actors who never leave the stage. What is most stunning about it is the hyper-realistic dialogue, which comes in incomplete thoughts and sentences that are astonishingly realistic. This is how people actually talk. Between his extended scenes are small structured segments that function to quickly span time and change locale. His writing captures conversations you've heard, or perhaps even had before. There is a remarkable fluidity to these conversations and arguments.

Lily Wolff, who has staged this production in the round, has done an impressive job with this piece, never letting the action become static in a very talky play and designing sharply executed signature movements that recur as the action progresses. Natalie George's lighting design underscores the mood and action in a beautifully subtle and unobtrusive way. I especially liked her grid of lights at center stage that reminds one of a ceiling lighting display rack in a hardware store (or IKEA, for that matter) with different lighting fixtures used as scenes change. It was a lovely understated effect.

What drives LUNGS, however, is the performances of the actors in this two-hander. Liz Beckham and Michael Joplin deliver phenomenal totally believable characters here. This play contains extremely difficult dialogue that they deliver fluidly and with great naturalness. Joplin, as M, spends most of the evening being the calming voice of reason; however, when he opens up and shows M's insecurities, he exposes a soul in so much pain that you ache for him. Beckham, as W, has the hardest dialogue in the play, much of it incomplete thoughts and inner speech that is externalized. She handles this in a way that is staggering to experience; it all flows glibly, naturally and artfully and never once appears to be the impressive skill of the actor. She is also to be commended for making a character that could all too easily be shrill into someone endearing. These are both superlative performances.

LUNGS is a surprisingly current look at what it is like to consider the act of bringing another life into the world as it is and as it may be, touching on both the personal and psychological aspects of a generation... and it has the courage to ask the questions that are pertinent to the present and upcoming generations. This is everything you could want from an evening of theatre: a well written script that is funny, moving and insightful, engagingly presented and performed.

LUNGS by Duncan MacMillan

Running time: Approximately 75 Minutes, No intermission

LUNGS, produced by Hyde Park Theatre (511 W. 43rd St, Austin, TX, 78751) Performances through Oct. 22, 2016. Performances are 8:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays September 22 - October 22, plus Thursday shows on opening and closing weeks (September 22 and October 20) and Sunday shows the three middle weeks (October 2, 9 and 16). The Thursday and Sunday shows are Pay What You Can Nights at the door. For the first four weeks (September 22 - October 16) Friday tickets are $22 and Saturday tickets are $24. Tickets go up $2 the final weekend. Tickets are $2 off for students, seniors, military, Austin Creative Alliance members, and Austin Film Society members.

Purchase tickets at or call 512-479-PLAY (7529) for reservations.

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