Last Mays Molière ceremony confirmed the emergence of an exciting presence in French theater, when director Irina Brooks production of Richard Kalinoskis Une bête sur la lune won Best Repertory Play, Best Adaptation, Best Direction, Best Actor and Best Actress, sweeping Frances annual drama awards.
A tour de force for a relative newcomer to Paris theater, the event has placed Brook at the center of a world she has long observed, as the daughter of the director Peter Brook and the actress Natasha Parry. What sets Irina apart from many a director in France however is not her famous parents, but a rare gift for telling stories in a simple language drawing on dance and music that movingly explores lifes beauty and tragedy, and profoundly touches audiences. Brook turns her talents this month to Tennessee Williams La Ménagerie de verre (The Glass Menagerie), a play that demands the kind of empathetic treatment of character for which Americas famously troubled playwright is best known and for which Brook is now making a name for herself.
If her production promises to be a highlight of the rentrée, one reason is the timeless tale of illusion and loss that infuses Williams first play and that offers an ideal vehicle for this young directors vision. The other is the authors stage notes that, as Brook told the Paris Voice, offered her an invitation [she] couldnt resist to explore this most imagistic of Williams works. For his play about Laura Wingfield and the glass animals that are her shelter from lifes painful truths, the Saint Louis-raised writer imagined a highly expressionistic set created by non-naturalistic lighting, magic lantern slides and projected lines from the text. Brook answers Williams call to be creative with original music, choreography and video, while asking actress Romane Bohringer to create the fragile and ephemeral Laura.
Music and movement are defining aspects of Brooks direction, from a whirling, jigging production of Brian Friels Danser à Lughnasa (1999) to a stylized reading of Katherine Burgers Résonances (1999), where dance lent mystery and grace to four friends struggle to embrace life and love. So inventive was her direction that she won a Molière for Best New Female Talent in 2000. Nevertheless, it is the desire to tell stories that offer meaning, joy and most of all hope that, Brook explained, is at the core of her art.
I do feel that its a kind of artistic desire to create [a show] that is trying to say something about the world that I live in or the way that I feel about life, she said of her choice of works. All the plays Ive managed to get hold of up to now have had that mixture of humor and emotion, and I find that one without the other doesnt really interest me that much. Theyre kind of positive pieces and that is very important to me.
With La Ménagerie de verre her fifth production in France and now two Molières under her belt, Brooks career appears to be launched in the country she calls home. Yet, of the theater arts, directing was not her first choice it took 15 years of acting in off-off-off Broadway and fringe theater in London for her to cross over to the other side of the footlights and to discover this was where she always wanted to be. Having come late to directing she explained, she now throws herself completely into her shows. I feel much more aware of the preciousness of time, she insisted. I dont feel I have any time or any emotional energy to waste. Therefore if I do something, I really want to do it entirely.
The story of Une bête sur la lune (Beast On the Moon) demonstrates the kind of investment she means. A London production in 1996 was Brooks first show as a director. When, awaiting the birth of her son Prosper, she decided to move back to Paris in 1998, the piece came with her and played in French that same year with the original bilingual cast before being taken up by the Théâtre de l'uvre last season. If the shows acclaimed seven-month run there is any proof, Brooks years of hard work have paid off, but the director prefers to credit the performances of her actors, Simon Abkarian and Corrine Jaber, and Kalinoski's tale of Armenian refugees in Milwaukee in 1920. Its a play that just generates something exceptional everywhere it goes, she remarked.
The same could be said of Brooks direction, which reveals an artist fully in touch with her craft, her texts and her actors. Like the characters in the plays she chooses, Irina Brook is also looking to understand lifes voyage, but, in her case, through storytelling, a practice at which she excels. Its the fact of having characters [who are searching for meaning in life] that makes me interested, she explained. That theres someone who is trying to understand what its all about makes me hooked. It makes me really want to tell that story.
Meanwhile, Irina Brook is spinning her own magic as a fascinating new director to watch.
La Ménagerie de verre, Tue-Fri 8:30 pm, Sat 5pm & 8:30pm, Sun 3:30pm, Théâtre de l'Atelier, 1 pl Charles Dullin, 18e, M°Anvers/Abbesses/Pigalle, 50-250F, tel: 01 46 06 49 24