By: Paulanne Simmons
Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins is certainly well qualified as the writer of his newest play, Gloria, now staged at the Vineyard Theatre, under the direction of Evan Cabnet. Having spent several years in the fiction department of The New Yorker, the esteemed author of Appropriate and An Octoroon seems to know all about the back-stabbing, aggressively nasty individuals who inhabit magazine editorial offices. And he’s a master of the back-stabbing, aggressively nasty language they speak.
The first half of Gloria describes the hellish atmosphere created by a bunch of entitled and bitter young people who don’t think they’ve gotten enough out of their fancy educations and envy their lazy, unqualified bosses. The dialogue is vicious and sometimes funny.
Most of the characters are fairly interchangeable, but for what it’s worth, Dean (Ryan Spahn) drinks too much and is secretly writing a book, Kendra (Jennifer Kim) is a bitchy Asian climber addicted to long work breaks in Starbucks and Ani (Catherine Combs) is a slightly less nasty version of Kendra.
There are somewhat less obnoxious characters too. Lorin (Michael Crane) is a hard-working fact checker who was supposed to be a lawyer. Miles (Kyle Beltran) is an African-American intern from Harvard who’s not particularly interested in joining this gang of malcontents.
The acting is uniformly sharp and quick. It suits Jacob-Jenkins’ dialogue perfectly, especially if you’re not too interested in delving into character.
However, nothing much happens until the end of Act I, when Gloria (Jeanine Serralles),
the office misfit, takes horrific vengeance against those who didn’t show up at the big party she threw at her house the night before. This includes just about everyone but Dean, who used the event as an opportunity to get drunk.
Act II has two scenes. The first takes place a few months after the incident in a punctiliously recreated Starbucks. Beltran is now the counterman, a portrayal so racist it’s a wonder no one has thought to protest. While he busies himself with his chores and his cell phone, the witnesses of the office catastrophe try to make sense of what happened and discuss the books they are going to write about it.
Finally, the curtain drops while the set is being rearranged, and after an interminably long time, the audience is introduced to a new office and a new group of ambitious young media nabobs, played by the double-cast actors of Act I. One of the many aforementioned books has become a huge success and has been optioned for a television… something. Lorin, who by some strange coincidence has ended up as a temp in this office, is not happy.
It’s important to recount the actual story here because lots of people have spilled lots of ink reviewing the themes of this play while avoiding much of what actually happens onstage. This is justified, as no one wants to spoil the play’s big surprise. But that’s a bit like telling Bible stories and leaving out God. It also should make you wonder about a play so dependent on a two-minute surprise.
Gloria has lots of witty dialogue and one very dramatic moment. But it doesn’t have interesting characters and it’s not particularly insightful about why they are the way they are. Watching this play is like watching a boxing match. It’s all about slugging it out.
But not quite. This is a play about ambition in an editorial office, consumer culture, and the media’s tendency to exploit tragedy, all hot topics. And for all his criticism, this playwright has learned how to play the media game very well. If you strike the right notes no one will care particularly what song you are singing.
Photo: Carol Rosegg
108 East 15th Street (between Union Square East and Irving Place)
Gloria contains disturbing content which may not be suitable for patrons under the age of 17.
Run time: 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission
Extended thru July 18, 2015