Duncan Macmillan’s play Lungs has been translated into French under the title Des arbres
A nameless couple fights while waiting in line at IKEA: so far, it’s all fairly routine. The argument started with the man asking the woman if she wanted a baby.
British playwright Duncan Macmillan knows how to handle ordinary moments and turn them into a gut-wrenching journey through a modern romantic relationship. His latest play, a mind-blowing face-to-face titled Lungs, has now been translated into French by Benjamin Pradet as Des arbres.
Is having a baby a responsible thing to do in a world where the rate of CO2 emissions has never been higher and where the future of coming generations has never been more uncertain?
This question will lead the main characters, a mid-30s couple, to question all they believe in. If they’ve paid their taxes, done the recycling and gotten socially involved, should they now consider themselves justified in perpetuating the human race? But isn’t it selfish to have children if you don’t consider yourself a good person?
Des arbres arises from a pessimistic viewpoint, yet the play gives way to comical and ridiculous verbal exchanges where extreme honesty prevails. Anyone could relate to this young and excessively rational couple trying to get it right in a world where nothing is. “That’s the goal of drama … to put a mirror in front of people’s faces,” lead actor Maxime Denommée said. “It’s as if we were able to relax people through humour … and touch them on an emotional level.” In proposing his own translation, Pradet stayed true to the tone of the text and to what Denommée refers to as British black comedy.
It’s interesting to note that the literal translation of Lungs’s French title is “Trees.” Probably not chosen at random, since forests are the lungs of the Earth, as the saying goes. Planting trees to do their share is part of the couple’s plan. Denommée described the couple as both strong and fragile. By swaying from one side to another in one of the last scenes, the couple embodies the paradox of nature and the feeling of impermanence conveyed by the play.
The dynamic performances of Sophie Cadieux and Maxime Denommée, previously partners in Radio Canada’s T.V. show Rumeurs, are filled with striking and realistic dialogue. A special mention is in order for Sophie Cadieux, deeply touching in the role of an anxious doctoral student who is half-insane and half incredibly sensitive to the world’s torments. It’s impossible not to shiver when she sarcastically reacts to one of the worst things that could happen in a woman’s life.
Des arbres’ existentialism is reminiscent of Simon Boudreault’s play D pour Dieu, where a baby playing God joyfully wonders about the meaning of life. Both dramas introduce a purgatory-like place, in which it’s about letting it all out. The set of Des arbres is empty, except for two bottles of water. Director Benoît Vermeulen choose simplicity for a reason—more elaborate set pieces or stage directions would have distracted the spectator away from the intense interpretations of such witty writing. Take two charismatic actors, a text that is as sharp as it is refreshing, and you’ll be left with a delicious taste of what can be done in the name of love… and fear.
Théâtre de la Manufacture and artistic director Jean-Denis Leduc present Des arbres at La Licorne Theatre from March 7 until April 15, with additional shows between March 20 and May 2. Tickets are sold out for all performances, but keep an eye out for updates through theatrelalicorne.com.