BWW Review: GLORIA Moves at Nebraska Wesleyan Theatre
I can now say that I've been to a play where the audience is moved more than the set. At the end of Act I in Nebraska Wesleyan Theatre's production of GLORIA, we left our seats and relocated to the "Starbucks" in the front room of the studio. There we could order coffee from the barista and sip it while immersed in the escalating confrontation of Act 2. We moved back to our seats for the conclusion that happens two years later in a Los Angeles television studio. Moving (physically and emotionally) is just one of many intriguing attributes of this 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
GLORIA is what one reviewer called a "white collar version of blue collar SWEAT." Both plays take place in toxic environments where disgruntled employees are either creating or reacting to workplace conflict. They are propelled into conflict because of changes designed to streamline and increase profits which ultimately squeeze the workers out. GLORIA is set at a New York magazine where the internet has decreased the demand for paper magazines and stalled upward mobility for the twenty-somethings who hope to make a career in the business.
These young professionals are diversified in their backgrounds and job skills but united in their desire to achieve their next goal before they turn thirty. Razor tongued Kendra (Raimy Washington) blames the lack of promotion opportunity on the sixty-somethings who refuse to die and open up higher level positions. Her coping mechanism is to shop sample sales thinly disguised as research for an article, pop out to the local Starbucks for a brew since the coffee machine in the employee lounge has been removed, and to continually harangue on her fellow office mates. Dean (Dustin Reckling), a gay man with an affinity for drinking, is Kendra's favored target. When she learns that he is the lone person to attend a party hosted by the morose "office freak" Gloria (Josie Ellis), she mocks him, saying, "Schmoozers become boozers."
Ani (Nicole Vawser) serves as the onlooker who enjoys a good show between Dean and Kendra. She is the "it girl" with marketable skills and a Harvard education. Office intern Miles (James Booker III) sits quietly at his desk working his last day and wearing headphones, but not listening to music...not when the loud back and forth between coworkers is so interesting.
The commotion draws uptight lead fact checker, Lorin (Chandler Boyte) out of his office. He rants that he wanted to be a lawyer but ended up with a BA in French. Since he's stuck at the magazine, he just wants the facts and to be left alone in his office. So, it's surprising that Lorin sees more to Gloria than do the others.
Act two takes place eight months later in a Starbucks. Nan (Megan Mills), Dean's former boss is meeting with Sasha (Hope Jimenez) to discuss a book deal. And this is the central theme of GLORIA. Whose story matters? What is worthy of telling? Who can profit from it? When it comes down to it, GLORIA isn't about Gloria. She's just the title. The people in her office are the story.
Directed by Jay Scott Chipman, GLORIA is a layered piece that alternates between comedy and tragedy. There are many funny moments, but just when you get comfortable, you get the wind knocked out of you. The cast does a great job building up their characters to a violent climax. Reckling and Boyte show an impressive ability to navigate the whole gamut of emotions.
Jacobs-Jenkins penned a compelling piece based on his experience working in an office such as this with people such as these. People stuck in cubicles are often prone to pretentious friendships that serve personal interests, runaway ambition and jealousy, and a constant dread that this is all there is. Sometimes there is someone like Dean or Lorin who might actually care a little bit about people and not treat them as an excuse to think about themselves. They might actually value the living more than the dead. And wouldn't it be grand if the media reported the unvarnished truth without figuring out which angle will bring in the highest ratings and the most money?
Photo courtesy of NWU.