A Baby? New Play Explores Politics of Child Bearing

It’s a subject that has far reaching consequences, especially for the X and Y generations, but the complexity and proximity of the inevitable question a couple asks “when are we going to have a baby?” provided the framework for Duncan Macmillan’s new play Lungs, making its world debut this month at Washington’s Studio Theatre.

But Macmillan, who at 30 is a rising British writer and director, prefers to describe Lungs as a conversation, probably “the most intimate and domestic” one two people will ever have.

He’s been there. Recently engaged, he says that although Lungs is not autobiographical, he and his girlfriend have navigated the tricky terrain of child bearing and came away with more questions than answers.

Do we want to bring a child into this world with its flagging economy and global terrorist threats? What effect will another human being have on climate change? How will we compensate for the carbon footprint of the pregnancy?

These are the sorts of questions being asked by well-informed, socially conscious urbanites around the world, and at the heart of the “conversation” between Lungs‘ two unnamed characters, a young man and woman living together and embarking on this verbal journey after the man poses the “baby question” while the two are shopping at an Ikea.

The woman is aghast and begins fuming while the man looks on in wonder.

Over the next hour and a half, you see the couple go through every possible emotion together while they explore the trajectory of their relationship, their politics, and, ultimately, their commitment to each other.


“It’s a combination of stand up, a boxing match, and a dancing duet, ” MacMillan explains with a smile, and Lungs does have its funnier moments, particularly when the characters are sparring in typical Venus-Mars fashion.

MacMillan says he wanted the rapid-fire dialogue to reign supreme, so Lungs has no set design, costume changes, or secondary characters.

Its austerity allows the players to absorb the room and capture the audience in what MacMillan describes as “live decision making”.

He is quick to point out that Lungs is not meant to be “didactic, because then people switch off”, but “the stakes are very high, and the characters are very anxious and neurotic.”

Perfect foil for entertainment.

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