DOWNTOWN: Denver’s And Toto Too Theatre Company continues its tradition of bringing new works by women playwrights to life with the world premiere of Lost Creatures by Melissa Lucero McCarl. This story of a meeting between a normally caustic theater critic and the aging silent film star Louise Brooks is cleverly structured, wonderfully acted, and a treat to watch.
Playwright McCarl built the play based on the meeting that happened between these two characters from history and their actual meeting, held in a small apartment decades after Brooks’ surprisingly early departure from a successful film career. McCarl tells the story using realistic dialogue between the two characters, but throughout their time together, they are joined by Lulu, the character that Brooks played in the film Pandora’s Box. More than just observing, she is an integral part of the story, unseen to the other characters, but responding, reacting, and occasionally interacting. Lulu is part alter ego, part Greek chorus, and part context. This device takes the play from what would have been an interesting relationship story to a higher level, merging the silent film world that gave us Louise Brooks into the fabric of the play. Lulu is silent film – her movement, expressions, style, everything. It brings the whole production together beautifully.
Director Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski seems to have taken the roots of this concept that must have been in the script, watered it, fed it, nurtured it, and let it grow and fully blossom. The contrast of the two “real” people, Ken and Louise, with Lulu is stark, and yet they are integrated together. All is balanced well, keeping the focus on the story, but using the structure to move the story forward, add texture, and really engage the audience.
Billie McBride, who played Louise Brooks, is one of the best actors in Denver, and I have always enjoyed the characters she creates onstage. She captures the aging Brooks very well, remembering her experiences from decades earlier, surprisingly but appropriately frank in her discussions of sexuality. One of the risks of having an actor so good onstage is that she can overshadow others, which I did see in one recent show. However, here, Marc Collins more than holds his own as Ken Tynan. It is hard to describe, but Collins captures the erudite arrogance of the British critic perfectly, clearly enthralled by his meeting with the object of his intense infatuation (both artistic and sexual). His performance is authentically artificial – the man Tynan is real, real in his emotions, real in his affectations, real in his flamboyance, real in his pain. And enhancing everything throughout is Annabel Reader as Lulu, beautiful, sexy, graceful, and silent, yet communicating volumes without a word, just as silent film stars did almost a hundred years ago. I can’t imagine a better cast than this for this show.
Lost Creatures is performed in The Commons on Champa, a newly adapted space in a building adjacent to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. It is not the best space for live theater, with the seating only slightly raked, making seeing everything clearly a challenge for those not in the front row. But set designer Darren Smith uses the space well, creating three small areas separate from the inside of Brooks’ apartment, including the area outside her door, which could have been excluded, but is important to the story. The space presents challenges for lighting, and while designer Emily Maddox does well within the constraints of what she had to work with, there is just not enough height in the room to light the space well. Maddox wisely focused on providing enough illumination, without trying to do more than was possible, thereby limiting the potential for distraction. Susan Lyles’ costume design works well, especially Lulu’s gorgeous, sexy 1920s era flapper dress and Tynan’s appropriately garish outfits.
It is hard to sum up my reaction to the many plays I see in unique and specific ways, especially when I see a show as exceptional as Lost Creatures. Yes, it was engaging, entertaining, intriguing, beautiful, and thoughtful, all words that I use too often. Maybe compelling is the best word to use here. I attended with a friend, a young woman who is a huge fan of silent film, and both my companion and I were riveted, completely drawn into the world of this play. After seeing the show, I looked up the lengthy New Yorker article Tynan wrote about the 1978 meetings he had with Brooks. The play captures both the actual the words and overall feel of Tynan’s article very well. I also really want to see the film Pandora’s Box again as well, to get more context. But honestly, the best indicator is that I, who never have enough time to see all the shows that I want to see, would be delighted to see this production of Lost Creatures again, perhaps even next weekend. It is that good.
If You Go…
Lost Creatures runs through November 19 at The Commons on Champa, at 1245 Champa St behind the DCPA in Downtown Denver, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $ 22-$ 25, with a $ 15 “cheap date” performance on Thursday, November 10. For more information and tickets, call 720-583-3975 or visit www.andtototoo.org.
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