Arts & Culture

Theater review: Much to contemplate in Sonorous Road’s ‘Lungs’

From left, Jonathan King and Michelle Murray Wells in Sonorous Road Theatre’s production of “Lungs.”
From left, Jonathan King and Michelle Murray Wells in Sonorous Road Theatre’s production of “Lungs.”

The idea of having a child in today’s world gives many would-be parents pause. For the long-term urban couple in Duncan Macmillan’s “Lungs,” it brings on near-paralysis as they endlessly analyze the pros and cons. Sonorous Road Theatre’s impressive production offers much to contemplate in the hands of a fine cast and an astute director.

Macmillan’s 2011 one-act follows an unnamed, unmarried couple (hereafter referred to as M and W) after M surprises W by suggesting they have a baby. She immediately begins obsessing over philosophical and moral questions, from the carbon footprint rearing a child causes to the burdening of an overpopulated planet. M backs off his suggestion but W is on a roll, her manic debating raising questions about the pair’s ultimate compatibility and commitment.

Macmillan has a good ear for heated arguments, in which thoughts are disrupted, overlapped and re-stated. Couples of all stripes will recognize universal sticking points about love, sex and finances. Macmillan finds much humor in these often-dramatic situations, adroitly salting them with practically every aspect of relationship maintenance.

He sets a huge challenge in requesting no sets, props, sound cues, mood lighting or miming of actions and by having the actors onstage for the whole 105-minute duration.

None of this daunts Michelle Murray Wells and Jonathan King, who confidently execute their stop-start lines believably and with engaging characterizations. Wells, as the constantly talking W, has the greater opportunity to show range, making the character sympathetic despite her irritating, ping-pong changes of mind. King has less to say as M, suffering often in frustrated silence, but presents an appealing portrait of someone hopelessly in love with a high-maintenance partner.

Nor do the limitations hinder director Tony Lea. The dialog crackles as he moves his actors tightly around the blank stage, keeping the play’s arc ever moving forward. He elicits funny and moving performances from his cast within the required minimalist approach. Liz Droessler’s continuously morphing lighting adds an abstract but unifying element.

Macmillan’s script is slow to establish its true direction and a showy final scene goes beyond a logical ending. There’s also a lot of adult language and frank sexual talk. But this very satisfying production deserves full houses for its thought-provoking script and its professional staging.


What: “Lungs”

Where: Sonorous Road Theatre, 209 Oberlin Road, Raleigh

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 15-17, 22-24; 3 p.m. Sept. 18, 25

Tickets: $18 (students/seniors $15)

Info: 919-803-3798 or