Love Is All You Need… In the eight years since she traded an acting career for a director’s seat, Irina Brook has signed productions of ten plays and three operas, winning six Molière awards, including Best New Female Talent (2000) and Best Director (2001).
From rising star to established artist, the daughter of Peter Brook is creating a room of her own in Paris, building on the lessons of one of modern theater’s great innovators and pedagogues while bringing to the French stage something distinctly personal, what she describes as a particularly “carnal” vision of theater and its capacity for telling human stories. With “Le Pont de San Luis Rey,” an adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s novel from 1927, in December, and Marivaux’s “Ile des Esclaves” in January, Brook continues to explore the troika of humor, humanity and politics on which she has been building her reputation.
More importantly, the young director explained recently, she finds in her latest texts much to celebrate even in an uncertain world. Writing at a distance of 200 years about such 18th century paradigms as aristocracy and destiny, Wilder and Marivaux tackle the same question: without love, what meaning in life? For Wilder, who reflected on the significance of unexpected tragedies, taking the example of the collapse in 1714 of a rush bridge linking Cuzco to Lima, Peru, which resulted in the deaths of five people, there is no meaning other than love, since it is in loving that we manifest our humanity. For Marivaux, who turned to an imagined island where masters and servants change places to consider the moral ramifications of a class-based society, love as acceptance of the other is the foundation of social peace.
For Brook, who approaches these texts after her most ambitious direction to date, last season’s “La Bonne Ame de Setchouan,” while the “pre-Brechtian” dimensions of Marivaux’s comedy appealed to her, she said that she discovered in Wilder yet another author with a compassionate bent for man’s dual nature, in his “mixture of being very idealistic, kind of existentialist and pessimistic all at the same time.”
It is an iconoclastic position to take amidst the intellectual theorizing of much French theater, but the capacity of the human heart to feel runs through Brook’s work. The generosity of spirit with which authors like Brian Friel, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare explore the human condition translates into her directorial decisions as well. “What can be given to the audience as an exchange is just as important to me as the artistic side of things,” she explained. “It doesn’t interest me too much to do something that is purely for entertainment or purely for money or purely for showing something off about myself. It’s about trying to do something which, even if one tells kind of bleak stories, has some kind of positive feeling about humanity.”
Those good vibrations are a defining element of a style, which combines music, dance, puppetry and the most innocent of gags in an intensely emotional experience. There is little question in Brook’s mind as to where her concern with people comes from, however: “I’m absolutely my father’s daughter,” she said. “Intellectually and creatively, my father and I are extremely closely linked.”
“Although his work is extraordinarily refined, it’s very ‘populaire’ and that’s something that for me has always been important,” she continued. “I did grow up going with [his] theater companies to schools for the deaf and the blind and spending my Wednesday afternoons in homes for ‘immigrés,’ while [the actors] were doing improvisations on a carpet, and all that has absolutely stayed with me. The day that I became a director and was able to talk heart to heart and head to head with [my father] was a very exciting moment in our relationship.”
Adapting Wilder’s text through group improvisation, employing a minimalist, chromatic set and confiding 22 roles to a cast of six, including a charismatic narrator/storyteller, Brook’s direction of “Le Pont de San Luis Rey,” in particular, pays inspired and beautiful homage not only to the symphonies of the heart but to the equally moving lessons of Peter Brook. For Irina, in life as in theater, love is the answer.
“Le Pont de San Luis Rey,” to Dec 12, 2004 Wed-Sat 8:45pm, Sun 5pm, Les Gémeaux, 49 av Georges Clémenceau, Sceaux (92), RER B Bourg-la-Reine, tel: 01 46 61 36 67, 8-23E. “Ile des esclaves,” from Jan 22, Tue-Fri 9pm, Sat 4 pm/9pm, Sun 3pm, Théâtre de l’Atelier, 1 pl Charles Dullin, 18e, M˚ Pigalle/Anvers, tel: 01 46 06 49 24, 7-37E