As I took my seat and opened my press kit for “Gloria,” Goodman Theatre’s newest show transplanted from a 2015 off-Broadway run, I found a half sheet of paper from the playwright and director of the play asking that those writing about the show, “…please refrain from including revealing aspects of the plot.” Although the meaning behind this note came to fruition at the conclusion of the show’s first act, the events that unfolded onstage were almost as intriguing as the inner-dialogue that took place in my mind after the play’s final curtain went down.
“Gloria” first focuses on the world of present-day journalism — where the demands on those in the industry are high and the rewards from the work appear low. It’s a time where raises are at a halt, coffee in the office is no longer free and cabs aren’t being reimbursed. “Gloria” is honest, provocative, funny, shocking and all around thought provoking. What was most impressive was playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ tactful use of dialogue to convey his ideas. The many themes explored throughout the show were not flatly stated like can be the crutch of other shows, when playwrights fear audiences will be unable to grasp a script’s core complexities. Rather, the mindless, quick-witted gossip and jabs of the journalists from their cubicles revealed much more beyond what initially pierced the ear.
The first act of the play thrusts audiences into the culture section of a New York-based magazine. Dean (a dynamic and blunt Ryan Spahn), Jennifer (a flamboyant and dramatic Jennifer Kim) and Ani (a normal though not invisible Catherine Combs), are three twenty-something editorial assistants for the section, seeking to standout in the magazine’s print publication while simultaneously trying to dismiss the encroachment of the magazine’s web group. Joining them is Miles (an eager and intellectual Kyle Beltran), an intern happy to refill the printer or grab the assistants a snack from the vending machine at their request.
The ambitious, success-seeking millennials are contrasted by Lorin (the seemingly depressed and annoyed Michael Crane), a 37-year-old who has just recently found himself promoted to head fact checker — a title he doesn’t hold with beaming pride — and Gloria (a characteristically-off Jeanine Serralles), a nearly 40-year-old copy editor who’s shy and odd personality has made her the easy target of the young employees’ narcissistic comments.
What is a normal day of gossiping, poking fun at each other, following trends and mourning the death of a forgotten indie musician all comes to a halt in an unexpected Act One climax.
The second act of the show seemed to lag just slightly following the high-stakes, heart-racing moment left by its predecessor. The actions of the second half of the show transition to navigate the human psyche following this tragedy and how it has changed or altered some of the characters’ personal outlooks. For some, their conceited and selfish mentalities shift from what life can do for them to what they can do for life. For others, they walk a fine line of sacrificing morals to use the given situation for their own personal gains.
The theme of ambition is heavily present throughout the two-hour comedic drama. In the first act, the millennial employees demonstrate the obsession with achieving a sort of celebrity and prestige from their work. The second act, however, focuses on tragedy and violence. What would happen if one day we were gone? What would we want our story to be? Who would we want to tell it? Would we be happy with how we spent our life and the pursuits we undertook? In addition to this, the increasing prevalence of tragedy in today’s society is brought into question. As heinous crime begins to develop a sort of normalcy, do we begin to develop an immunity or numbness to the violence? “Gloria” tries to prompt discussion on these questions along with much more.
This is a play that will hit the hearts and minds of each audience member in its own way. For me, now an intern at a Chicago TV station, I saw myself in Miles — an eager individual with fresh eyes ready for his chance to leave a mark in the industry. Others might relate to Lorin — someone who has, for years, given his all to a company but has never felt the much anticipated benefits and recognition he feels he deserves. And then there are the Glorias in the world — those who have married their career and divorced all else in his or her life. The show presents the question of ambition and what we are willing to sacrifice in achieving those ends. It presents the idea of tragedy and how we would react if faced with a similar situation But ultimately, it’s a question of what we want from life and how far we are willing to go to get it.