Emphysema (A Love Story)

By (author): Janet Munsil

Silent-film performer Louise Brookes was living in obscurity when bad-boy theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, who was infatuated with her film persona Lulu, tracked her down for a New Yorker profile. In a script crackling with wit, Janet Munsil recreates their encounter.


Janet Munsil

Janet Munsil’s work has been produced on mainstages internationally, including Alberta Theatre Projects, Tarragon Theatre, Touchstone Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, the Citizens Theatre (Glasgow), the Arts Club Theatre, Persephone, and the Soho Theatre (London). That Elusive Spark was a finalist for the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award. Her adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, commissioned and co-produced by Theatre Calgary and the National Arts Centre, has been seen worldwide. Munsil is the former artistic director of Intrepid Theatre. She currently teaches writing at UVic, and is adapting her most recent play, Attaboy! into a one-hour drama pilot through the CBC Creative Relief Fund. In March 2020, she instigated the Canadian Play Thing (plaything.ca) to support the work of playwrights, which she operates from her home on Lekwungen territory/Victoria, BC.


“Influential theatre critic Kenneth Tynan’s fascination with silent-film performer Louise Brooks led him to track her down to her Rochester apartment in the 70s. The developing relationship between the enigmatic, Garbo-like Brooks and Tynan, living a rich fantasy life with the film-inspired Lulu, fires up Emphysema, the hit of this year’s playRites.” —NOW


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Excerpts & Samples ×
Louise is lying in bed, smoking, several books, articles, research lying around her. She is reading a copy of Tynan’s Curtains. Louise flips over the book to study Ken’s picture. A knock at the door. Louise: I don’t want any! (Eventually a knock.) Louise: (Shouting.) I don’t want any, I said. Ken: (Offstage, stammering.) It’s me. It’s Ken. Miss Brooks. I know I’m a bit early. Your neighbour let me up. I could come back later. Louise: Just a minute. Just a minute. Just a minute, I’ll be right there. Ken is dressed for outdoors in a long black coat, scarf, gloves. Bottle of wine, leather bag. Ken: Ah, (Coughing fit.) Hello. It’s me. Louise: (Letting him in.) You’re too early. Ken: (Trying to catch his breath.) I’m very sorry. (Coughs.) Excuse me. I hope It’s not too inconvenient. If you’re busy I can come back… Louise: So you’re the illustrious Kenneth Tynan, hmm? Ken: Yes. Louise: You’re different than I imagined. Ken: Oh? Louise: I’ve been reading your books. Ken: Oh, I see. Louise: You’re different than I thought. In real life, you don’t look so… Ken: Young? Louise: Intelligent. You look too…hmmm, wicked. Like a satyr. Ken: How marvelous. Louise: I never imagined that you’d have a— (She waves vaguely at her lips.) Ken: Oh, the, uh, stammer. You hardly notice it when I write. Louise: I hope I didn’t offend you. Ken: No, of course not. Louise: I think it’s gorgeous. Ken: It rarely bothers me these days. When I’m upset or excited. Nervous. Louise: Are you nervous now? Ken: (Laughs.) Yes, I’m very nervous. Louise: Good. Well, come in, this place is a dump. Ken: Not at all. Louise: I bet I’m not quite what you had in mind. Ken: Oh, no, really, yes. Louise: Liar. Ken: Yes. Well, I must say this is a very great pleasure… I brought you a bottle…’59 Burgundy. Supposed to be a very good year. Louise: I wouldn’t know. I was drunk that year. Ken: Oh. (Alarmed..) Do you not…then you don’t? Louise: What the hell. It’s a special occasion. It’s a party compared with the rest of my life. Ken: Ha. Pause. Louise: Well. Ken: Yes? Louise: Are you waiting for the sun to cross over the yard arm? Ken: Oh, pah. Shall I? I’ll look after this, shall I? Louise: Give it to me. I’ll do it. (As she exits, making circles in the air with her finger.) Where’s your goddam thingy? The thingy is over there. (Makes plugging in gesture.) Ken: Tape recorder? No, I don’t have one. Louise enters with open bottle and plastic tumblers. He pours, swirls his wine in the tumbler, holds it up to the light… Louise: Bottoms up. Ken: I suppose we should get started. Louise: I’m desperately tired. Ken: I could come back tomorrow. Louise: Might as well get it over now that you’re here. Louise starts to get into bed. She is having some trouble and Ken doesn’t know if he should help. Ken: Here, let me Louise: (Pointing to the tray table.) Just get that out of the way. Ken: Here okay? Louise: Thanks, sweetie. (She picks up the book.) Sign it. Not for me. For Marge. She’s my upstairs neighbour. I’d be dead if it weren’t for her. Brings me three meals a day, doesn’t ask for a dime. She’s a darling and I’m just wicked to her, just wicked. I can’t help it. She’s one of those caring, concerned types that you want to, oh, kick. Ken: Is she interested in the theatre? Louise: No. She’s interested in famous people. Ken: I see. Louise: She’s never heard of you. Ken: Well, that’s fine. Louise: I didn’t tell her about your Oh! Calcutta!, or that you’re the man who said “fuck” on live TV. Ken: Yes. My epitaph. (As he hands the book to her, his attention is caught by Louise’s shoes. She notices Ken staring at them.) Louise: Is there a problem with my shoes? Ken: I’m sorry. Louise: Space shoes. Ken: I’m sure they’re very comfortable, darling. Louise: (Laughing.) Look at you. You should just see yourself. You just don’t know what to think, do you, mister enfant terrible? Ken: I haven’t been that for thirty years. (He offers her a cigarette and she takes it.) Louise: Adult ordinare. I’m just giving you a hard time. Have a light, darling? Ken: Of course. Louise: So. What do you want? Ken: I’m interested in your life, your work. Your beginnings as a dancer, your time on Broadway with Ziegfield Follies, your Hollywood films, your work with Pabst in Berlin. Why you walked away from films at the height of your career. Louise: Why do you think? Ken: That’s what I’m here to find out. Louise: You tell me. Ken: I think you had integrity. Louise: Maybe I was just bored. Ken: I’ve read your magazine pieces about film acting, and the corruption of the Hollywood system—I think they’re fabulous. Louise: You’re bullshitting me, darling. Ken: I’m not! You’re a very talented writer. Louise: You slay me.(Smiling.) You really want to sit here for three days and talk to a mean old bag about her utterly, utterly, miserable life? I know what you really want. Ken: What do I want? Louise: You want her. Lulu pops up over the headboard of the bed. She is wearing a corset and transparent striped Victorian bloomers. She sits on the headboard, her ankles crossed, inches away from Louise. Ken: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Louise: You do. She might live in your fantasy world, sweetheart, but believe me, you don’t live in hers. Ken: Nonsense, darling. Louise: I’ve been trying to kill her off for fifty years, and everyone wants to bring her back to life. Ken: Darling, you have to forgive people admiring you. They can’t help it. Louise: But they don’t exist to me. Ken: But you exist to them. The entire western world has a collective memory of your face—the face you see in your mind when you think of the twenties. You embody a time and place in history. Louise: Yeah? Well, that’s not my problem. Ken: Some people wouldn’t think of that as a problem Louise: You, maybe. Ken: Darling, I think it’s an honour. You’re an icon. Louise: An icon. Ken: Yes! Louise: Imagine this. At this moment, somewhere in the world, someone you’ve never met is obsessed with you. They’re thinking about you right now. They’re looking at a grimy old photograph of you that they ripped out of a library book and keep folded up at the bottom of the sock drawer. Their whole life revolves around meeting you. They think, if only if only the two of you could meet, you would suddenly know, somehow, that this was the person that the cosmos had created to make you complete. That kind of crap. Now, would you feel good about that? Would you feel safe? Ken: But surely, darling, that is what it means to be a celebrity.

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64 Pages
8.5in * 5.5in * .21in


April 01, 2000


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DRAMA / Canadian

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