“Gloria,” a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist, starts off on an average day in the culture department of a dysfunctional New York City magazine, where employees spend more time bitching, gossiping, trading quips, and net surfing than they do working.
The fast-paced and funny first act of “Gloria” focuses in on several competitive and continually sparring overeducated assistant editors, Ani (Martha Brigham), Kendra (Melanie Arii Mah), Dean (Jeremy Kahn), and one Harvard intern who tries to keep his head above the fray (Jared Corbin). The three assistant editors spend their days vying with each other for advancement from the cubicles to the private offices occupied by the editors. But being an editor seems like a worse job. Editor Nan (Lauren English), is so nauseous or hungover that she never comes out of her office in the first act. And chief fact-checker Lorin (Matt Monaco) is totally stressed by having to review a last-minute article about a pop star’s sudden death. Then there is the quiet, awkward copy editor, Gloria (also played by Lauren English), whose housewarming party was barely attended by the office staff.
It’s not surprising that playwright and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (Obie Award-winning “An Octoroon,” “Everybody”) spent some time working at such a magazine, given the authenticity of the cheerless and cluttered workplace cubicle set (Scenic Designer, Lawrence E. Moten III), and the realism of the office workers’ edgy, jagged, yet witty, dialogue. According to Jacobs-Jenkins, his job at “The New Yorker” when he was fresh out of Princeton was not the basis of the play.
If you pay attention to the theater’s disclaimers about a calamity and the handout about post-trauma symptoms and resources, you know that something terrible will happen in this office. Critics have been asked “in the hopes of maintaining the integrity of the experience of ‘Gloria’ not to include revealing aspects of the plot.” And so I will not divulge the particulars of the end of Act One.
Suffice it to say that when the second act begins, months have passed, and none of the employees are working for the magazine any longer. Some of them have suffered a significant and dramatic change in their emotional health and personalities. For others, their competitive, striving natures have not lessened, but instead, have been channeled into trying to be the one to write the lucrative bestseller about the traumatic event they endured. The last scene takes place in yet another unhealthy office — but in this one, books are packaged into TV movies.
It is in Act Two that we can genuinely appreciate Obie Award–winner Eric Ting’s excellent direction and his synergy with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing. The two worked together successfully in Berkeley Rep’s exciting “An Octoroon” (2017), and the duo continues to excel. The combination of natural pacing and excellent performances of all the actors (Jeremy Kahn, as Dean, has an opportunity to display his virtuosity) provides the second act with gravitas. It is hard to beat the bang-up first act, however, and the slower, yet effective second one ends on an ironic and world-weary note.
Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2020 All Rights Reserved