In 2014, Quasar Thakore-Padamsee and Toral Shah were doing a reading of Duncan Macmillan’s critically-acclaimed play Lungs in their office. The theatre director and creative producer assumed they were alone. The next morning, Q, as he is fondly called, was asked by his graphic designer Gitanjali if everything was okay between him and Shah, because it sounded like they were having an argument. “That’s how powerful the writing was because it sounded so natural as a conversation. That sent me down the Duncan Macmillan rabbit hole. It’s rare to find a play that’s crafted so well with language and words,” he says.
Although he had directed another play—Every Brilliant Thing— adapted from Macmillan’s text, Thakore-Padamsee was sure that he wanted to direct Lungs as well. The play, first performed in 2011 in Washington DC, is described as a conversation between a couple, who are contemplating bringing a child into this world. “But it is so much more than that,” he explains. “You are exploring human beings through extremely intimate conversations. Whether it is about sexual intimacy or parts about whether to have a child or not, it is all so wonderfully placed in the text,” adds Thakore-Padamsee.
Usually when the play follows such a theme, the usual tendency is to veer towards the intimate. But Macmillan not only goes towards it, he expands the boundaries even further.
The two characters, M and W, played by Prashant Prakash and Dilnaz Irani respectively in this play, engage in a conversation that spans a couple of years. Everything from pregnancy to tsunamis, floods and forest fires is discussed. They ask each other numerous questions—what would they be giving up in order to have a child, will they prove to be good parents or not, what would the pregnancy mean for them as a couple? However, at no point does the play become laborious or monotonous. Rather it remains witty and engaging. “Nothing is played out to the audience. It’s almost a voyeuristic, fly-on-the-wall kind of experience for them,” says Prakash.
The actors, who have been rehearsing for the play for the past two months, are excited about bringing the conversation alive in front of the audience. “There are no stage directions or design instructions. Everything happens just through the course of the conversation,” says Prakash. Irani adds that they bring in themselves and their life experiences to the stage.
Thakore-Padamsee, who had planned to open the play in March this year but had to delay it because of the pandemic, shares that it was a challenging and exciting play to design. “The set and design are built into the writing. How do you design for such conversations and how do you find the grammar for it? We had a lot of fun trying to find those things in the rehearsals and I think we have stumbled upon something that works. Other than the text, everything in the play is open. There is no fixed blocking for the actors and it all depends on where they take it. That’s a very exciting piece of theatre to build,” he says, terming the play “a bit of a rollercoaster ride”.
Lungs will be staged from June 16 to June 19 at JBT Box at the NCPA, Mumbai.