What do you do when you’re rehearsing a show that has no set, no props, no costume changes and no miming but does have a storyline that unfolds in multiple locales at different times?
Clearly, you head to IKEA.
At least that’s what Megan Carty and Matt Hertendy did to rehearse one of the scenes in Lungs, Duncan Macmillan’s two-hander about a young couple struggling with whether to have a child in a consumer-driven world dogged by climate change. The show, a remount of Carty and Hertendy’s award-winning 2018 Ottawa Fringe Festival production, is at Arts Court starting Jan. 10.
Carty says that doing things like actually shopping together in IKEA helped embed the experience in their bodies and that informed the show. “That’s why we got the comment (from Fringe audiences), ‘Oh, I knew where you were every time.’ We have to feel we’re in that space. If we don’t feel it, there’s nothing to help the audience.”
They even rehearsed the trip to the store in a car, with director Paul Griffin acting as their Uber driver. That paid off when it came time to present the show. “It’s not so much what you physically do but how you position yourself and how you are in an environment,” says Griffin, who also directed the sold-out Fringe run.
And although it’s been months since the Fringe, Hertendy says that when they started rehearsing again, he was surprised to discover how much his body remembered.
Lungs, which has been described as a “comedy of ideas,” is structured as a series of quicksilver conversations between the couple about their relationship, about their ethical dilemma over whether or not to bring a child into an increasingly fractured world, and about the different places they go. It’s a very intimate show, says Carty, and it’s performed without a lot of theatricality.
That absence of theatricality includes taking a pass on any kind of stage design. Explains Griffin, “If you were a designer, you’d want to put your imprint on it, and that would be the worst thing for it. It really is just about two people on stage.”
Performing a stripped-down play, one in which the characters don’t even have names, in such a stripped-down fashion is a “huge responsibility for us to maintain,” adds Hertendy. Judging by the few minutes of rehearsal that I saw (not at IKEA, but in the studio of The Acting Company, where Hertendy works), it’s a responsibility they are meeting.
The dilemma — whether to bring children into the world — faced by the two characters is one that both performers, who are in their 20s, say is part of the conversation among their peers.
“More and more, people I talk with lean toward, ‘Why would I do that?’” reports Hertendy. “There’s just so much uncertainty and a decline in many facets of society and the natural world. It’s looking more and more bleak, especially for people of our generation who will have to live longer in the kind of world we’re heading toward.”
A generational questioning of procreation: That’s a sobering thought.
Equally sobering is the climate change that Carty says isn’t at the play’s forefront but is always “looming,” a reality that underlies everything.
To do its own part to combat global warming, Carty’s production company, Cart Before the Horse, cooked up a deal with NatureLab.World, an international organization dedicated to restoring degraded ecosystems and other environmental activities. Carty and company will sponsor the planting of 32 trees to counter what they estimate to be the ton of CO2 emissions generated per show. The company believes it’s the first theatre troupe in Ottawa, and possibly in the province, to offset the emissions associated with a production.
Despite its frequently dark elements, Hertendy says the show, also known for its funny and edgy qualities, is not a downer. “There’s enough humanity to it, you connect with the characters enough, that it’s not bleak. Bleakness just throws up this wall for an audience that will ruin a whole night, and I don’t think we ruin people’s nights.”
Carty first read the script four years ago and knew immediately she had to do it at some point. When she brought it to Griffin and Hertendy in 2017, they leapt aboard with equal fervour.
As she prepares for the show’s second go-round, Carty’s hopes for it are the same as they’ve always been. “One of the mandates I promised myself for the company was to create theatre that isn’t just entertainment but that sparks dialogue about stuff we aren’t necessarily able (to discuss). I hope it’s one of those pieces that little memories of it pop up for days and days after people see it.”
Lungs plays in the Arts Court Library Jan. 10-13 & 17-20. Tickets & information: lungs.brownpapertickets.com