'Lost Creatures': Love finds its voice in the ruins of Rochester

Watch the trailer for Louise Brooks’ 1929 silent film, ‘Pandora’s Box.’

By McKenzie Kielman
For the DCPA NewsCenter

Louise Brooks was an iconic American silent-film star from the 1920s and ’30s, the flapper who immortalized the bobbed hairstyle 50 years before Dorothy Hamill skated her way into America’s hearts. Kenneth Tynan was a highly regarded English theatre critic who so idolized Brooks that he tracked her down in 1978 to profile her in The New Yorker. By then, Brooks was a forgotten recluse living in a dingy apartment in Rochester, N.Y.

Lost Creatures. And Toto Too. Billie McBride and Annabel ReaderAnd yet, despite their 20-year age gap, an unlikely love story unfolded in the course of their marathon dialogue about sex, philosophy, art and criticism.

Acclaimed local playwright Melissa Lucero McCarl (Painted Bread) imagines what might have happened during that fateful encounter in Lost Creatures, the final play in the 11th season for And Toto Too, the only Colorado theatre company dedicated exclusively to new works by women playwrights. The fan and the idol identify one another as kindred spirits despite the May-December age difference. 

Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski, the DCPA’s Associate Director of Education, directed the play starring Colorado Theatre Guild Lifetime Achievement Award winner Billie McBride and former local theatre critic Mark Collins, along with Annabel Reader as Lulu, the famous character Brooks played in the 1929 silent film Pandora’s Box. Appropriately enough, Lulu does not speak during the play, either.

Read Kenneth Tynan’s New Yorker profile on Louise Brooks

“I’m very intrigued to see how audiences respond to this third character, who is somewhat spectral and never clearly defined – on purpose – as if she’s not really there, or a product of imagination,” said Elkins-Zeglarski.

Patrick Elkins Zeglarski. Lost Creatures. Although film is a fundamental basis for the dialogue, no clips from the 24 films Brooks appeared in have been incorporated into the play. “Oh, the horror,” Tynan jokes. But the absence is intentional, Elkins-Zeglarski said.

“Ken even starts the evening by saying there are no film clips, because this is a play about language and ideas,” he said. “We will be talking about film, but we will not be looking at film.”

McCarl’s resulting play, he said, is smart. “It’s just an exceptional evening to sit in the company of these two great minds as they delight and challenge each other.”

Some audience members may come in with a vast knowledge of Brooks and Tynan, while others may never have heard of either one. Elkins-Zeglarski said the conversation stands on its own. But he finds it inconceivable that these two renowned figures in film history might otherwise be lost in the sands of time. Pop culture loses a Louise Brooks and gains a Kardashian. “I don’t think the play judges that, but I do think that the play says, ‘Hey, there are other options out there,’ ” Elkins-Zeglarski said. “We are spending time with two of those options.”

And while everyone knows Kim, Kylie, Klohé, Kourtney and Kendall, we call all relate to Brooks, Elkins-Zeglarski said, “Whether you are also someone who wants to create, or are someone who is also managing addiction, or if you identify with being labeled or pigeonholed but not succumbing to those people. I think this is a very modern and contemporary conversation, even if it takes place in the late 1970s.

Meet Mark Collins, the critic who plays the critic Kenneth Tynan

“That’s a benefit of this play. You get to spend an intimate evening with these two people and walk away wondering, ‘How did these lives touch me in this theatrical journey?’”

Lost Creatures. Kenneth Tynan. Louise Brooks. The city is helping bring McCarl’s world-premiere staging to the Denver Performing Arts Complex in a new performance space called The Commons, located at 1245 Champa St. It’s part of the city’s Next Stage Now program – a public initiative to enliven and diversify the downtown arts complex. A new partnership between the city’s department of Arts & Venues, the Boettcher Foundation and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts has made $200,000 available to support public performances, programming and place-making initiatives at the arts complex in 2016. 

McKenzie Kielman is a sophomore at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, and is an intern this semester for the DCPA NewsCenter. Contact her at cintern@dcpa.org

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Lost Creatures: Ticket information
Nov. 9-13
At The Commons, 1245 Champa St.
Performances 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays
Tickets $25
Call 720-583-3975 or go to and-toto-too-theatre-company.org



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