A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
I suppose you could classify Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Gloria as a workplace or office politics drama. Whatever the category, it's a terrific, intriguingly structured and suspenseful play.
To avoid stumbling into spoiler territory with details about the suspense element, I offer this teaser instead: When a play's first act ends with a big bang, it's easy to fall into the trap of a can't top this, go-nowhere, second act. Not so with Gloria. The climactic pre-intermission scene is followed by two more scenes, each bringing its own very different set of big bang surprises. In short, I could just stop here with an urgent "don't miss this."
Some details about Gloria's kinship to previous Jacobs-Jenkins plays, setting, performances, dialogue and staging won't spoil anything either. So here goes.
This exciting new play, like the justly lauded Appropriate and Octoroon, delves into how you can't ever really put a "Finis" on past events. In Appropriate (see review links below) a contemporary Southern family had to deal with the realization that lynchings once took place on their homestead. Octoroon (see review links below) merged past and present with a modern re-visit to a melodrama about micegenation.
In Gloria, which plays out over the course of three scenes, with an intermission after the first and a pause between the other two, the past and present are just eight months apart. Except for one black character and some bits of dialogue, this is not about racial issues but an imaginative take on today's work place and how we respond to the sometimes traumatizing unpredictability of modern life in general.
The story revolves around a Manhattan magazine, not unlike The New Yorker where the playwright once worked. Takeshi Kata's set puts the spotlight on three 20-something editorial assistants in cubby holes in front of their respective, mostly unseen editors' offices.
First at her desk is Ani (Catherine Combs) who still believes that she'll rise from her lowly position to something better. Next to arrive is her cubby hole neighbor Dean (Ryan Spahn), the cynical gay assistant who hates the menial tasks he's still doing , and yet fears that even his lowly job is endangered by the way things have changed in the five years since he was an intern.
Rounding out the trio is Kendra (Jennifer Kim), a motor-mouthed Harvard graduate who's lucky enough to have a boss who is oblivious to the fact that she does no work, spends most of her time shopping, taking coffee breaks or delivering monologue-length diatribes — mostly rants about a less talented than her woman getting cushy assignments because her boss is the web editor. She also justifies her frequent trips to Starbucks as a response to the new policy of no more free coffees (see quote at the top). The current intern, Miles (Kyle Beltran), is also part of the office scene, though it turns out that this is his last day.
This is a gossipy bunch so it doesn't take long to learn more about their office culture. It seems the title character is a depressed, long-time copy editor and the "office freak." The cubby hole chit chat begins with Dean bemoaning his having been the only employee who attended Gloria's (Jeannie Serralles) housewarming party.
The assistants' talk gets pretty boisterous, which prompt several visits pleading for quiet from Lorin (Michael Crane), the fact checker. As for Gloria, she does show up briefly two times and it's the effect of that last appearance that propels the action of the post-intermission scenes.
Once again, spoiler avoidance prevents me from saying more about just what makes Gloria's appearance in the first scene, so critical to what follows. What I can tell you is that under Evan Cabnet's fluid direction the actors make the most of the chance the Gloria situation affords them to showcase their versatility. Set designer Kata also provides them with an apt new set to do so — the Starbucks where Kendra took her frequent breaks from work.
Most importantly, Jacobs-Jenkins has a keen sense for crafting what's personally familiar into dynamic dramas, to build from a seemingly superficial set-up towards a shocking climax —. and then continue to surprise and engage us.
To read our reviews of Appropriate ( go here and of Octoroon go here ).
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