It’s probably fair to say that for many of us, we spend more time each week in the company of our work colleagues than we do our friends and family, yet we often know far less about them. Sure, there’s the surface level understanding of who they are, what they’re interested in and where they come from, but when it comes to how they’re really feeling and what makes them tick it’s rare that we spend the time to gain a deeper understanding of everyone we work with. In Gloria, Young American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins observes the consequences of not caring enough about getting to know those who you spend 8 hours a day toiling beside, while satirising the carnivorous culture of journalism and factual reportage.
Set in the New York office of an unnamed magazine, Gloria focuses on a set of editorial assistants and an intern who work in the lifestyle section, amidst what seems to be just another ordinary day. (Jacobs-Jenkins himself having worked for The New Yorker magazine for a number of years knows his subject matter well.) But this isn’t just your usual workplace comedy, thanks to a profoundly moving and confronting event that occurs towards the end of act one. Not for a faint-hearted audience, this incident is what creates the structure for the rest of the play and everything that comes before it is merely scene setting.
For that reason, it’s hard not to feel that the first act is overly long, weighed down by the mundane and could be shorter. While it is often quite funny, it feels decidedly mediocre until this big event changes everything. It’s very difficult to describe this part of the story without creating major plot spoilers, which I don’t want to do, so please forgive the cagey description.
What can be said is that these co-workers are all feisty young things, looking to climb the job ladder and get their big writing break. Dean (Jordan Fraser-Trumble), who stumbles in late to work with a hangover after attending the lousy house party of Gloria (Lisa McCune) the night before, has a manuscript he’s been working on but doesn’t want the others to see. While he’s in his editor Nan’s office assisting with a rather disgusting clean up job, his co-worker Ani (Jane Harber) sneaks a peak at his writing uncovering its rather embarrassing autobiographical subject matter. Upon his return the caffeine addicted and work-shy Kendra (Aileen Huynh), delights in spilling the beans on Ani’s discovery. This kicks off a prank and a subsequent argument that sees uptight fact-checker Lorin (Peter Paltos), from ‘down the hall’ come in and admonish them all for once again disturbing him and his team while they work on a last minute profile about the recent death of a morose 90’s pop singer. Things only get worse for Dean when the intern, Miles (Callan Colley), unexpectedly garners a private meeting with Nan, creating feelings of concern that he might be about to be usurped by the eager Harvard graduate.
The second act is broken into two scenes that dissect the fallout of the incident (that I won’t mention) at the end of the first act, set in a Starbucks café – delivered through a very convincing design by Christina Smith – and a television production company office in L.A.
Momentarily it seems that the outcome will be a rather glib reflection on events that should have more meaning than it feels they have affected. Certainly, it’s true that the American approach to such happenings is very different to the Australian attitude. Thankfully though, the final scene makes a somewhat more satisfying, although still frustrating, assessment of things.
Director Lee Lewis’ production is slick enough, but lacks energy at times and feels a bit swallowed up by its expansive first and third scene sets, which are remarkable in technical achievement but somewhat devoid of humanity. Although perhaps an impression of surreality is just what Smith intended by her designs.
Of the cast, Fraser-Trumble is particularly outstanding in the pivotal role of Dean. Due to most of the cast doubling on characters, this script is many an actor’s dream, and Harber in particular gets to play with three very different roles, delighting as the vacuous production assistant Callie. McCune also gets to play both ends of the personality spectrum affectingly hitting the mark with each reprehensible character. Paltos by contrast only gets to play one character but neatly defines the change in his outlook following the fallout of events. Huynh also shows great growth in her character of Kendra, while up and coming young actor Colley is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Due to the confronting nature of the MacGuffin it’s hard to immediately know how to feel about this play, yet in full reflection, the issues it shines a light on are quite compelling and worthy of inspection. Certainly once its plot motivator is introduced, this is nothing less than fascinating storytelling and definitely theatre for the adventurous.