PARIS — Irina Brook, one of Europe’s most exciting new stage directors, has theater in her blood.
After all, her father is Peter Brook, the great British director responsible for some of the most influential productions of the last 50 years. But the younger Brook, who next month will stage a production of Giaochino Rossini’s opera, “La Cenerentola,” at the Theatre Champs Elysees here, didn’t intend to follow in her father’s footsteps. She gravitated to acting first.
This story first appeared in the April 29, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Growing up in Paris, where her father decamped in 1970 to found his experimental Bouffes du Nord troupe, Brook left for New York at 18 to study with Stella Adler. Things went well at first. She landed parts off-Broadway and then moved to London, where she worked in theater and film. She even acted in a few of her father’s productions in Paris. But her career didn’t gel. Then, in 1995, she came across a play by Richard Kalinoski called “The Beast on the Moon,” and decided to test destiny.
“It all happened very overnight,” recalls Brook, now 39. “My feelings for the play were very strong. For the very first time, I knew I needed to direct.”
The play opened to raves in Paris. It traveled to London, where it enjoyed a successful run in English, and then returned to Paris. At the 2001 Molieres — France’s equivalent of the Tonys — the play swept all five top prizes, including best director. Since then, Brook has never been out of work.
Critics called her staging last year, in French, of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” fearless and inspiring. Last summer she wowed audiences with a spare version of Tchaikovsky’s opera, “Eugene Onegin,” at the festival in Aix-en-Provence. She also has staged productions of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” And this fall, she will stage Bertolt Brecht’s “Good Woman of Setzuan,” in French, at Paris’ Chaillot theater, before taking it on the road.
Although she has veered toward opera, Brook stresses that stage is her first love. “My number one passion is theater because I’m interested in choosing actors and in the process of finding a play that I can feel passionate about,” she says.
Yet, in recent years, she has fallen under opera’s spell. Early next year, in fact, she will kick off an opera workshop in Bologna, Italy. For “La Cenerentola,” loosely based on the Cinderella tale, Brook transports the action to a loft-like bar in modern-day New York. “For me to be interested in watching something it needs to be contemporary,” she says.
Of course, this method is similar to her father’s minimalist aesthetic and elemental approach. While Brook’s style is informed by her father’s, it’s not imitative. “There are certain highly stylized things that I like that are really my own taste,” she points out. “I’m very interested in dance and the expression through the movement of the body. I like musical comedy.
“I suppose the thing I like most in theater is when it works on an emotional level,” Brook concludes, as an assistant calls the director back to rehearsal, “and then giving it all a light touch.”