On Stage: ‘Lungs’ a masterclass in overthinking
Normally it’d take years to get know two people as well as Adrian Egolf and Luke Sorge, but after sharing 90 minutes of their lives on stage in the Miner’s Alley production of “Lungs,” we have a very clear idea of who they are—and even what they might say next.
That’s because “Lungs” is a deep, deep dive into a relationship between two young people confronting some major crossroads in life, particularly in relation to the question of whether or not to reproduce. While that’s a big decision for any couple with the luxury to make it, Egolf and Sorge are a particular species of millennials that tend to overthink things. In fact, they take every topic that crosses their paths and analyze it six ways from Sunday, extracting every ounce of possible meaning and ramification and beating the shit out of it until they’re both gasping for air, exhausted, apologetic and tied in knots.
It’s a treat to watch. Written by Duncan Macmillan and directed by Miner’s artistic director Len Matheo, “Lungs” has only two unnamed characters, a man and a woman played by Egolf and Sorge (a married couple in real life). While baby-faced Egolf and scruffy Sorge may look ill prepared to tackle the big mysteries of life, it turns out to be the thing they’re best at. Well, maybe not the solutions part of things, but when it comes to exploring something from all angles, they’re in a league of their own.
This is don’t-miss theater, the kind of show that’s all about words, facial expressions, hand gestures and fraught meaning all in service to a great script. There are no props, no set pieces apart from a few platforms and some scrawny dead trees along the upstage wall. There’s no intermission, scenes and time shifts are just alluded to with a few steps off and then back. It’s just acting — and damn fine acting at that. In what are surely dream roles for a pair of married thespians, “Lungs” gives Egolf and Sorge a wide-open canvas to explore a great many questions — ones that likely mirror those in their own lives.
When we meet the couple, they’re in an Ikea and Sorge drops what amounts to a thermonuclear bomb into the middle of a mundane search for a piece of furniture. As we’ll soon come to find out, Egolf is not the kind of woman to take “Hey, how about we have a baby?” with anything resembling calm. There’s the carbon footprint to consider, for starters (“10,000 tons of CO2”), not to mention the disaster a pregnancy will visit upon her body. She’d have to give up smoking, of course, and then what about X, Y, Z and issues one through a thousand? Macmillan gives Egolf a lot to work with, and the actress seems to savor every word. While it may at first look like Sorge’s main job will be just to keep up with the Egolf show, this character has plenty of depth as well.
It’s not unusual, when watching a play with only two actors, to come down on one side or the other. “Lungs” is cleverly crafted so that the pendulum swings back and forth between the two, so that just when I thought I was firmly planted in Team Luke, Egolf would swing me back over to her side. Not only are their stories equally compelling, Egolf and Sorge are so well matched as actors that we’re happy to take turns as they hand the baton of indecision back and forth.
Out of thin air
It’s hard to overstate how much the director’s hand influences this show. So much of stage acting is dealing with props, blocking and just the general guard rails the artificial construction of a play often relies upon. With “Lungs,” Matheo has none of that business to fall back on, so everything in the world of the play beyond the words themselves must be drawn out of thin air. Matheo had a decision to make about how realistic all of this had to be, and the first test comes when the couple gets in their car in the Ikea parking lot. Before long, they’re standing outside the car, perhaps on the hood or even walking around the back seat. With this, Matheo frees up the actors to work around suggestions of where things might be, rather than exerting energy trying to perfectly navigate the imaginary set — energy more usefully applied to delivery of the lines.
And those lines. Macmillan’s script is a potpourri of millennial anxiety, a torrent of words that tell us exactly who these characters are — more by telling than showing. Even so, the two actors do a fantastic job working up their surroundings in our mind’s eye, while their body language and proximity to one another speaks volumes. It’s a relationship based on conflict, but one that, we imagine, will never-the-less go the distance.
At its heart, “Lungs” is a love story, but one that reflects much more accurately what real relationships look like with a happily-ever-after that may not thrill romantics. For Egolf and Sorge, I’d have to imagine these are roles of a lifetime. As a married couple in theater, they may never get a chance to perform in so intimate a show. For audiences, it’s a rare opportunity to see two actors at the top of their game in a play that seems ideally suited to each of them.
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