J. Nicole Brooks returns to Chicago for the fiery ‘Fedra’
By Matt McGuireSeptember 30, 2009
J. Nicole Brooks just landed a cushy theater fellowship. She’s also starring in a play, which she happened to write, in one of the city’s premiere theaters.
And she never, ever wants to work retail again.
"I don’t care if I have to sell my eggs or sell my blood, I just can’t go back to retail," says the Chicago native. "It sucks the life out of you."
Brooks should know. She wrote "Fedra: Queen of Haiti," which kicks off the Lookingglass Theatre’s 22nd season this week, while working behind the counter at a "posh boutique"—she’s not working there anymore—and struggling as an actor in the Los Angeles area.
"Fedra," set in a futuristic Haiti, is Brooks’ loose retelling of Phaedra from Greek mythology. The plot would make Jon and Kate, Khloe and Kourtney, and other reality TV thugs blush. We called Brooks, a Lookingglass ensemble member, for the rest of the sordid details.
Fedra falls in love with her stepson. It sort of makes Woody Alan’s situation seem a bit more normal.
[Laughs] You know, I used to watch "One Day At a Time" when I was a kid, and everyone loved Valerie Bertinelli. I never liked her. I always liked Mackenzie Phillips. When [Phillips] dropped that bomb the other day, it really made me connect with her in a deeper way. I thought, "Gosh, she’s so human. She’s incredibly brave and damaged." Just watching her on Oprah, whether you believe her or not, it made me think I could draw from her experience.
Fedra, Woody, Mackenzie. It’s all pretty crazy. Think people will relate to this?
Fedra falls in love with her son against her will. To some extent, that happens to all of us; we can’t control who we love. It eats away at her. It drives her insane. She does so many things to deal with it. She drinks, she pops pills, she’s a cutter. So she resorts to self mutilation because this thing is eating her alive.
You’ve re-imagined Haiti as the world’s greatest superpower. Why?
Why is Haiti [one of] the poorest nations on the planet and it’s right below the most powerful nation? What if something happened where there was a shift, and the power started to wane in the United States and it started to shift to Haiti? The world is changing quickly. Who’s to say in the year 2030 Antarctica won’t be a beach resort? I hope not, but things are shifting every day. ... I mean, in the late 1700s with Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haiti was the only nation to lead a successful slave revolt. If the people of Haiti did that then, who’s to say what they can do in the future?
If Haiti is the world’s greatest superpower in "Fedra," is Wyclef Jean the greatest musician?
I like that cat, so sure. He’s an advocate for his homeland. I can’t say I blame him. I’m an advocate for Chicago. Everywhere I go, I tell people Chicago is the greatest city. If I were from Haiti, I’d do the same.
But you moved away from Chicago!
After I graduated from NIU, I worked professionally in Chicago for about seven years. I was having a really great time, and I was working a lot in theater. I did a couple films, but I wanted to focus even more on film. I left in 2004 after I did "Race" at Lookingglass Theatre.
And yet a couple of your movie roles in "Barbershop 2" and "The Weather Man" were filmed in Chicago.
If you rent those movie and look into your popcorn, you’ll miss me in both of those.
Matt McGuire is the Metromix editor.