Set in a dysfunctional magazine office in the 2010’s, featuring a riveting script and taut performances, Gloria is a play that asks profound questions: What does authenticity look like in an image-driven world? How do we restructure our relationships with each other to be less competitive and more compassionate? Is it possible to have a meaningful career in today’s insecure economy?
Written by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins and originally produced at the Vineyard Theatre in New York in spring 2015, this powerful, sardonic play is also just plain fun and cathartic to watch. If you think your workplace is full of crazies and egomaniacs waiting to backstab you the moment you let your guard down, seeing it will make you feel better.
Gloria opens in a small open office with desks pushed closely together, immediately centering us on this harshly competitive workplace. Tragically insecure Dean, on the verge of turning 30 and going nowhere fast as a culture writer, shows up late after getting drunk at an office meetup the night before. We learn later that he’s written a memoir that could just be his ticket out of there – if he can find anyone who will publish it, that is.
In sweeps Kendra, a sniping twentysomething who, though seemingly callous and shallow, also represents a kind of generational angst that the play squarely grapples with. “Everyone in charge is pushing 60 and not going anywhere,” she spouts off to Dean and her coworker Anica. “They discovered New York when apartments were, like, a dollar…” then ruined publishing with their “martini lunches.”
Dean and Kendra’s slowly simmering duel, aptly played by Evangeline Zhiyi Han (Kendra) and Michael Prosen (Dean), is an outward projection of their uncertainties. “Pretty nerd” Anica (played by Sarah Maria Yannie) and eager intern Miles (Isaiah Betts) are caught in the middle, while fact checker Lorin (Keith Kornajcik) pops in to tell them to shut up. The baby boomer editors remain symbolically sealed behind their closed office doors.
What happens next makes Dean and Kendra’s thing look like a minor spat between two best friends. Gloria, played by Sally Groth*, is a sad copyeditor who has just thrown a housewarming party after finally managing to scrape together enough money to buy her own place. She’s worked there 11 years. That’s the same office party Dean attended the night before, where there were only four people so he spent the entire time getting drunk over painful small talk.
Nearly all the characters remark that Gloria is a little bit “crazy,” though we don’t know exactly how crazy until the play’s shocking events unfold. No spoilers here. As the program notes, however, “CPT’s production of Gloria includes sudden, loud gunshots, and graphic violence.”
The play’s first half is tightly-plotted and full of suspense. After an intermission, we return to find the characters examining their lives and relationships in a post-Gloria world. What began as a tightly conceived play about workplace culture devolves a bit into a sprawling, meta-meditation on fame, survivor’s guilt and who has the right to tell whose story. There are some extremely funny, creative moments, but it almost feels like a separate play, and I found myself longing for a tighter frame.
Special shout-outs go to director Beth Wood and fight designer Kevin Inouye for their deft choreography of physical action throughout the show. The music, including the song “Change in My Pocket” by Cleveland musician Uno Lady, also reverberates nicely.
Jacobs-Jenkins’ ambitious script deals with a dizzying array of issues – including racism, economic anxiety, millennial generational issues, changes in the publishing industry, toxic workplace culture, and social media – yet manages to also tell a compelling, character-driven story.
“I just wish everything would go back to the way it was,” says veteran magazine editor Nan to a friend at Starbucks.
In a fast-moving play where we’re on edge to find out what happens next, we know that’s that one thing we can rule out.
*Actor appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.