Two of Duncan Macmillan’s critically acclaimed plays will be staged back-to-back.
You get to watch two plays with one ticket. You barrel through an entire spectrum of emotions in the span of three hours. You watch up close, in an intimate and personal stage setting, the very talented performers who take you through all the feels. There’s more, of course: The cast of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, consisting of a couple played by Sab Jose and Reb Atadero, alternating with Justine Peña and Brian Sy; and the even smaller cast of the same playwright’s Every Brilliant Thing, a singular character played alternately by Teresa Herrera, Kakki Teodoro, and Jon Santos, with support from the audience—but I don’t want to give away too much.
Lungs is about a couple who, one day shopping in Ikea, suddenly throw themselves into a frenzied conversation about having a baby. Like any self-respecting Millennial, the woman’s main concern against procreation is the fate of the planet, because babies are just little carbon bombs about to explode and the world doesn’t need any more humans messing it up. The man and the woman, named only as M and W, bicker constantly and never seem to understand what their partner needs at the moment. And while their arguments cover no new ground (every parent-to-be cycles though worry, guilt, joy, and craziness), they are ultimately relatable, perhaps uncomfortably so.
The pace speeds up in the second half as M and W rapidly age without the help of costume or set changes. This is the brilliant thing about this play and its direction by Caisa Borromeo. We witness a couple growing up, growing old, experiencing major life moments with only a jump in the dialogue, a shift in their movements to signify something has been altered. It’s a stylistically stark play, making its success hinge on the acting. Justine and Brian (on the night I previewed Lungs) are pitch perfect in their portrayals of an idealistic young couple—he a sort of fumbling, live-in-the-moment guy who doesn’t really think about the consequences of his actions, while she is an overthinker who expects her partner to be able to read her mind.
The second play, Every Brilliant Thing, explicitly deals with depression and suicide, as told by a character who had to grow up in the orbit of her mother’s mental health problems. In the preview I watched, Kakki Teodoro kept the audience tickled with her improvisational wit and the distinctly Filipino sense of humor she brings to a book written by an Englishman. The title of the play refers to the list of happy things the seven-year-old girl starts writing in response to finding out her mom has lost the will to live. From “ice cream” and “spaghetti” to “Tina Turner’s hair” and “inappropriate songs played at emotional moments,” the list grows and matures as she does. It gets lost and it gets found again later in life as she eventually struggles with her own dark clouds.
The interactive nature of this play makes it feel like a community effort. As it ends, audience members are not left as strangers but are united as co-creators. The play’s life-affirming message doesn’t downplay the seriousness of suicide and its impact on others, in fact there’s a short bit on how suicide should be responsibly reported in the media. Again, with a pared-back set (the same handful of crates used in Lungs), all eyes are on the performance, and Kakki switches from comedic showmanship to quiet poignancy seamlessly.
Directed by Jenny Jamora (who would win a Gawad Buhay award for Outstanding Stage Direction) Every Brilliant Thing made its debut in the Philippines in 2019. It was meant to be restaged with Lungs in March 2020, but the pandemic happened, disrupting the festival. This current production is the Sandbox Festival that was originally meant to be, and more: there are three show dates of EBT where the narrator will be played by Jon Santos entirely in Filipino, as translated by Guelan Luarca, who won the 2022 Gawad Rolando Tinio Translator’s Prize. It will be interesting to see how the list gets localized and which OPM classics will replace Ray Charles and Etta James. The title alone, Bawat Bonggang Bagay, is irresistible.
Oh, and a piece of advice to playgoers—wear nice socks.
The Sandbox Fest featuring Lungs and Every Brilliant Thing runs from June 17 to July 15, 2023 at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC.
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