What has been left of the Earth for its children? Lungs – 4 Stars

New Rep Theater, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA, February 17 – March 10, 2013, Cast (in alphabetical order), Liz Hayes, Nael Nacer, Jen Rock, Set & Lighting Designer, Emily Woods Hogue, Costume Designer, Arshan Gailus, Sound Designer. www.newrep.org

Imagine telling the story of a young couple’s life from courtship to death in two hours. Pretend it is not a movie, but live theater. Now, provide only a 12-foot square platform, take away all sets and props, allow no costume changes, and offer no intermission. Name your characters M (for “man”) and W (for “woman”) and you have the setting for the thought-provoking Boston premiere of Lungs, a comedy by Duncan Macmillan directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary, now showing at the New Rep Theater in Watertown, MA.

Don’t let the traditional female/male relationship and bare minimum set fool you: the conversations of W and M, played by Liz Hayes and Nael Nacer, ring true for today’s relationships. Their quick, funny repartee begins while standing in an IKEA store as they ponder the implications of bringing a child into a world that might not have trees, fresh water, or enough food for its ever-growing population. It is a strange harmony that Hayes and Nacer create/produce, as M says, “Plenty of musicians have kids,” and W responds, “Plenty of successful musicians have children” (or vice versa), and as they talk over each other, while considering concepts both light and heavy, like what makes one a “good” person.

With minimal sound effects, the characters’ courtship and eventual decision to raise a child together are portrayed. They have lows: “We’ve never figured out how to be together without making each other feel like dirt (insert expletive here)”, and more lows: “Is this still the hormones, or are you just being nasty?” This production is an old-fashioned dose of melodrama at its best, sprinkled with a generous helping of humor.

The simple set includes a sheer curtain covering a backlit design that could be roots, or arteries, or, dare I say it, lungs. It is through the couple’s comments about life’s events (and the changing seasonal colors of the suggested lungs) that we know time is moving forward, a mother passes away, and then a father. However, soon after the birth of their son, their lives go from labor to old age in 60 seconds – quite stunningly portrayed though pantomime, facial expressions, and appropriately placed phrases, like “See you when you come back from college.” As in real life, days move slowly, then there are children and years flash by in a blink.

While funny and quick-paced, a lot of time in the exposition is devoted to questioning our carbon footprint and environmental damage as the protagonists’ relationship develops, and not enough time in the rest of the play to their life together or answers to those complex questions. It seems that once they have a child, the impact on the planet is not considered until the end of their lives when the show ends with a reflection of where they began, and asks what has been left of the Earth for its children?

The New Rep Theater is approaching its 30th season. They offer both Mainstage and Black Box productions. Season tickets are reasonably priced with a variety of options between the two theaters. There is plenty of parking and there are restaurants nearby in the Arsenal Mall area.

For more, see www.newrep.org.