Jeff Award-winning actress Janet Ulrich Brooks is one of 15 actors appearing in Robert Falls’ and Seth Bockley’s epic stage adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666. With its large cast, decade-spanning storyline and five-hour running time, 2666 presents a unique challenge to its cast and creative team. Below, Brooks, who recently appeared at the Goodman as one of the hilarious titular sisters of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, recalls her first interaction with the piece, her plan to sustain her stamina during the marathon run and why Bolaño’s powerful work will certainly move audiences.
I first became involved with 2666 at the Goodman’s 2012 New Stages Festival, where we presented a five-hour staged reading of the work. Having not read Roberto Bolaño’s book, this was my first introduction to the story. There were so many amazing artists sitting around the table during the reading and we just went on this incredible journey together. Initially I wondered if we would be able to keep an audience interested for a 5-hour long reading. We were all wondering if the audience would return after each intermission. Well, people came, returned and stayed for a post-show discussion! Bolaño has a large following. And I think those who weren’t familiar with Bolaño before the reading (like myself) were surprised and captivated by the unique storytelling. Before the reading I was sure I’d be exhausted after, but the opposite happened. As I was driving home, I was so jazzed and exhilarated. I remember thinking, “This was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever been a part of.” I was thrilled when I was asked to continue on the journey!
This play is kind of the ultimate ensemble piece because even the directors are an ensemble! I worked with Robert Falls at the Goodman on his productions of The Seagull and A True History of the Johnstown Flood. The rehearsal process for both of those was similar to this, a very immersive experience. It’s been rewarding being part of Bob’s return to his roots of ensemble work that is the core power of so much Chicago theater. Seth, who I worked with on Failure: A Love Story at [Victory Gardens Theater] is very playful and open with his direction. Their collaboration really makes sense to me; they are both incredibly intelligent and visionary in what they want to achieve.
I’ve never really been part of a show of this scale or this length. I’ve put together all my things I’m going to need over the next few weeks and throughout the run. We’re going to be at the theater for long days, rehearsing and performing. I’m bringing my yoga mat so I can stretch during breaks. I’ll have to eat right, have my teas, you know? Everyone is going into a certain amount of health and survival mode, but we’re all just so excited to be a part of this. We just don’t know what is going to happen with this new beast, but we’re over the moon that it is happening.
People have been asking me exactly what the play is about. Each part of the book has a different feel, so each act has a different style. Each part is distinctly Bolaño, but the characters and the locations change throughout the play. Some parts are dreamy, some more aggressive, percussive, some fanciful. With each part, you may be wondering what is going to happen to a certain character…and you may not get the answer you were expecting. Instead you’ll be introduced to some new characters who take you on another part of the journey. So when people ask me what it’s about, words that come to mind are: dreams, illusion, madness, fate, corruption, death, culture and art. It’s about life. And life is about the journey, not the destination.