Review: “Lungs”

A young couple debates the merits of bringing a child into this environmentally-challenged world and then deal with the ramifications of their decision in Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, the latest offering from Zoom Theatre. There’s one final performance scheduled for Sunday, May 10 at 5:00 pm PDT.

Zoom Theatre is the brainchild of director Patrick Nims. Its “season” consists of shows selected and staged specifically for live webcam presentation which translates to small casts, minimal costume changes and really confined settings.

Their first production of two David Mamet one-acts worked fairly well in as much as the characters in both plays remain fairly static and never need to “share the frame”. The first play consisted of an estranged father and daughter sitting at opposite sides of a table while the second was set in a car with a father and daughter in adjoining front seats.

The playwright’s instructions for staging Lungs give the impression that it would also be easy to stage as there are to be no set, props, or costume changes. However, the characters are all over the place (emotionally and physically) and this presents several challenges for a webcam presentation. Some of those challenges were met, others needed more work.

The first challenge was in casting. The actors in the Mamet plays were able to do their performances from two different states as their characters never shared physical space. In Lungs, the two characters (whose names are never spoken) do nothing but share physical space, and occasionally quite intimately. Nims’s solution to this particular challenge was to cast two actors who were already sheltering-in-place together – San Francisco Bay Area performers Greg and Amber Collins Crane.  

Greg & Amber Collins Crane

Casting a married couple as “M” and “W” no doubt added a layer of real life experience to the characters and some ease in the staging of intimate scenes. They share the stage for an uninterrupted 95 minutes and do well with Macmillan’s characters as they work through the somewhat stock trials-and-tribulations of a young couple in a relationship. The script peters out at the end (but the Cranes do not) as Macmillan tries to cram a few decades of history (both personal and environmental) into the final twenty minutes.

The technical elements required to stage Lungs as a live webcam presentation presented a whole slew of challenges. Eight cameras were utilized (as opposed to two in their first production) providing high-angle shots, low-angle shots, stage right, stage left, etc. though rehearsal time with all eight cameras was limited as evidenced by scenes occurring with actors either completely or partially out of frame. There were too many instances where Ms. Crane seemed to be speaking to the headless torso of Mr. Crane. Either the blocking of the scenes or the timing of the camera “cuts” needs to be improved.

While I appreciate the desire and/or necessity of the additional cameras, I found the constant appearing and disappearing of multiple angles on my screen very distracting. Scenes didn’t simply cut from one to another, they would appear, reduce the size of the existing scene, and eventually disappear thereby allowing the scene to return to full screen. Occasionally, there would be three angles of the same scene running simultaneously on my screen. This had the effect of taking me out of the world of the play as I tried to figure out which frame I was supposed to be watching.

Audiences are invited to leave their microphones open so that the cast (and fellow audience members) can hear their reactions. This did not work well with the Mamet plays. Whether it was the very verbally-active nature of this play and its lack of quiet moments or the audience learning how to turn down their microphone levels, I will say that that I found the audience’s audio interaction less obtrusive this time around.  

Director Nims makes it clear with each presentation that the process is still in its “experimental” stage. Nims may have aimed a little too high (at least camera-wise) with this production, but what the show lacked in technical finesse was made up for by the strong performances of its leads.   

Zoom Theatre is an interesting experiment that will continue and hopefully improve with each subsequent production.

Next up – Anna Ziegler’s Actually.

Lungs will stream live on Sunday, May 10 at 5:00 pm PDT.

FREE – Click HERE for more information or to sign up for one of the 85 “seats”.

Photos courtesy of Zoom Theatre

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