Review: Gloria is a disturbing and darkly funny morality tale


GLORIA by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (ARC in association with Crow’s Theatre). Runs to March 20 at Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw). $45.20-$73.45, some senior and artsworker discounts. Rating: NNNN

At a time when everyone seems to be at an emotional breaking point, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Gloria makes oddly appropriate viewing.

It’s 2010, and a couple of ambitious, 20-something editorial assistants at an unnamed, prestigious New York City magazine are bitching about their lives and their stalled careers.

Dean (Nabil Traboulsi) is almost 30 and has reported to a culture editor for several years while secretly working on a memoir. Kendra (athena kaitlin trinh) is a few years younger, works for another editor and says she would rather die than turn 30 and still be working in a cubicle.

Both are waiting for promotions that aren’t coming any time soon. As Kendra says in one of the play’s sharpest monologues, there’s little opportunity in the company because the baby boomers who have been there for decades – she calls them “post-war glutton babies” – aren’t dying and opening up positions.

Sharing the cramped space with them are Ani (Jonelle Gunderson), an over-educated, underpaid receptionist, and Miles (Savion Roach), a genial young intern who spends his time blocking out everyone’s complaints with his headphones or making trips to the vending machine for the assistants.

Even the more senior staff down the hall aren’t happy, like Lorin (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio), an exhausted fact-checker, and Gloria (Deborah Drakeford), a socially awkward copy editor who threw a party the night before, to which only a few people – including Dean, hoping for networking possibilities – showed up.

This first section moves along at a clip. Jacobs-Jenkins has a great ear for the petty rivalries and irritations of urbane office life. And since he worked for several years at the New Yorker magazine, his portrait of 21st century print publishing hitting the iceberg that is the internet feels disturbingly accurate.

While the first act ends with a big event – which I won’t spoil – what’s intriguing is how Jacobs-Jenkins deals with the fallout in act two. In the two subsequent scenes, we see how some characters try to exploit what happened to them for financial and career gain – and like most excellent satire, it’s funny because it’s true.

But what gives the play another layer of complexity is a late speech recounting one person’s real, ordinary life – something not often explored in the pages of glossy magazines, confessional memoirs or melodramatic TV shows. And it brings up the idea of the need for kindness and sympathy, something that resonates especially strongly these days.

Director André Sills gets clear, focused performances from all the actors, many of whom play multiple roles (Gunderson and Roach are almost unrecognizable after some of their quick changes). The way trinh’s Kendra confidently marks out her territory in the office tells you a lot about her character, and her description of an awkward editorial meeting is so vivid she makes us feel like we’ve witnessed it first-hand. The more introverted Dean is slightly fragile, something Traboulsi captures both in his voice and posture. Drakeford, meanwhile, creates two completely different people in the mousy Gloria and assured editor Nan; the way she coolly suggests the latter’s entitled insensitivity is as brutal as anything else in the play.

Jackie Chau’s clever set is so versatile it can, with minor alterations, suggest three different locations, the angles tilting in such a way as to immerse us in each one. And I’m not sure if it’s in the script or not, but in the first act, Sills effectively has some of the lights (Chris Malkowski is the lighting designer) bordering the walls sizzle and seemingly overheat and turn off in moments of extreme tension, with a sinister sound effect from Christopher Stanton.

Stanton, too, must be responsible for the interstitial music, which is often classical and choral, suggesting the Gloria section of the doxology and adding yet another layer to this disturbing and darkly funny modern morality tale.




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