This much you should know: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play, “Gloria,” now in a Goodman Theatre remount of its original Off Broadway production by the Vineyard Theatre, is a no-holds-barred provocation. And there is this, too: At the very same time that much needs to be said about the play (especially if, like me, you might be tempted to flee the theater at the end of its first act), there also is a great deal that cannot be revealed without ruining several of its most crucial elements of surprise.
‘GLORIA’ Somewhat recommended When: Through Feb. 19 Where: Goodman Theater, 170 N. Dearborn Tickets: $25 – $85 Info:http://www.GoodmanTheatre.org Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission
Suffice it to say I am deeply ambivalent about the work, though it redeems itself to some extent in what might be described as its “second-and-a-half” act. The production, directed by Evan Cabnet in a style that echoes the super-sized print of a tabloid (or a Facebook entry gone viral), operates in the overkill zone. And while on one level it has a sort of lurid and appropriately ferocious satirical appeal, on the other it feels heavy-handed and manipulative in the extreme, and often leaves the audience laughing at some wholly horrifying things.
On the surface, “Gloria” (whose subject is the antithesis of the exalted baroque work of the same name by Vivaldi), is a scathing look at the vicious office politics of a group of highly educated but frustrated Millennials who work as assistants on the cultural desk of a trendy if financially-strapped New York-based magazine. This might sound like a good post-college gig for wannabe writers struggling to pay the rent, but as they begin to edge toward 30 they start to sense they are stuck. And more to the point, they resent how the real acclaim comes not for those working in the once prestigious print division of the publication, but rather, for the hit-accruing website crew.
None of this is news to anyone who has observed the publishing business since the arrival of the Internet and the demise of print. What is news here is that these twentysomethings are downright Trumpian in their relentlessly snarky mean-spiritedness, and their blatantly cruel interaction with their fellow employees, including the sad, serious, hard-working Gloria (Jeanine Serralles) who is on the copy desk. And it’s not just that these Millennialls have total contempt for their bosses (whether those, like Gloria, who are nearing 40, or for the Baby Boomers who might as well be put in an antiques cabinet, but whose “glory days” they view with a certain amount of envy).
Not surprisingly, they all secretly yearn to be pop culture celebrities in their own right, even if, as they well know, such celebrities only become fully salable after their death by opiates or such. Their awareness of all this drives them to act out by means of the most regressive sort of bullying, while the tormented loneliness of a veteran office worker drives her to snap.
The Millennials of the first act include: Kendra (an aptly relentless Jennifer Kim), the wealthy, Harvard-educated Asian-American tigress who thinks she knows how to “work it,” but is just immensely aggressive, annoying and narcissistic; Ani (Catherine Combs), the seemingly nice girl who has her own devious ways; and Dean (Ryan Spahn, just driven and self-doubting enough), who is secretly penning a book, “Zine Dreams,” but also is the lapdog of his boss, Nan, who remains (unseen) behind her office door and is known to drink far too much.
As the play opens, Dean has earned the dubious distinction of being the only person in the office to have gone to Gloria’s apartment-warming party, and he describes the whole sad situation of the evening. Lorin (Michael Crain, with just the right hint of depressive tendencies), is an office veteran —a going-nowhere fact checker who mostly asks for quiet from time to time. And adding levity to the antiseptic cluster of cubicles is Miles (a most winning Kyle Beltran), the gangly but exuberant African-American intern from the Ivy League who seems unfazed by requests to go on coffee runs to Starbucks.
By the play’s second act there is not only plenty to write about, but plenty of trauma to recover from. Enough said, except for the fact that Jacobs-Jenkins has not only tapped into both the trivialization and commodification of mass tragedy —and the blood sport now at the heart of “the personal memoir” —but has captured the decidedly unglorious lives of both the so-called winners and losers in our society.
While all of the actors make intriguing transitions from the first to second act here, it is Serralles who works the most astonishing flip. And she, alone, is reason enough to see “Gloria,” a play at once inflamed and inflammatory.