Gloria was penned by acclaimed American playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins. It premiered in New York in 2015 and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Last year, it had its Australian premiere in a production for the Melbourne Theatre Company directed by Griffin Theatre’s Lee Lewis and, now, Gloria has arrived at Sydney’s Seymour Centre, care of Outhouse Theatre Company.
Gloria is the story of a group of aspiring writers working for an upmarket magazine in New York City as editorial assistants. It’s a deeply dysfunctional and insidious environment. The team members on which we’re focused are distrustful of one another, bitch and backstab, and clearly have no qualms about climbing over each other in pursuit of their plans. And none of them appear to be engaged in any real work.
In the opening scene, conversation begins with a revelation that Dean (Rowan Witt) was the only member of the group to attend a housewarming party the night before hosted by a co-worker, Gloria (Georgina Symes). No one really knows Gloria – she’s perceived as somewhat of an anomalous character – and virtually no one attends the party.
Kendra (Michelle Ny) then reads online that a popstar named Sarah Tweed has just died of a drug overdose and learns a member of another team has been tasked with writing a profile for the latest issue. Incensed that a member of staff other than herself is drafting the piece, she goes to complain to the relevant editor. It’s a testament to the lack of real work going on in this team and the aggressive discontent of its members.
And then, suddenly, something genuinely terrible and shocking happens. No one saw it coming. These individuals are totally lacking in self-awareness or an awareness of their own environment and have cultivated a careless attitude to each other. But the ambition of these office members doesn’t waver and we become privy to their endeavours to take a tragedy and seize on it as a career-making opportunity.
Director Alexander Berlage (fresh from leading the outstanding Australian premiere of American Psycho The Musical) has created a highly provocative and compelling production that asks us to hear those we work with, with whom we often spend more time than those we consider closest to us. A sharply written, bleak satire, Gloria looks at the banal circumstances of office politics that can germinate a perfect storm, but also at the self-serving exploitation that can surface as a response to real human tragedy.
A proper proscenium stage has been constructed in The Reginald for this production and it seems so apt that events transpire in this isolated little box, in which the occupants have no regard or concern for the goings-on beyond their own bubble. Jeremy Allen’s set provides us a wonderfully detailed realisation of the magazine office, reminiscent of office spaces with which we are all familiar.
A cast of six plays all 13 roles (as required by the script – it’s a means of suggesting that workplaces and workers can be universally toxic) and the performances here are uniformly strong. Truly, this cast is first class. Witt is excellent as the insecure and frequently hungover editorial assistant, desperate for validation of his writing skills. Ny, similarly, is superb as the cynical but noxious opportunist, Kendra, while Annabel Harte completely convinces in each of her three guises – the intelligent assistant, Ani; a book editor, Sasha; and the somewhat clueless assistant, Callie.
Symes has limited stage time as the title character, but is perfectly glib and slick as magazine editor, Nan. Justin Amankwah impresses as the green intern, Miles, and shows his comedic talent as Shawn, a Starbucks staff member. Finally, Reza Momenzada delivers as the play’s only sympathetic character, Lorin, a fretful factchecker at the magazine who proves to be the moral compass of the piece, consciously resolving to do better with his co-workers the second time around.
Outhouse Theatre Company’s Gloria is transfixing and a terrifically performed black comedy that, like Berlage’s last project, urges us to be less indifferent to the people who occupy the spaces around us and to check ruthless ambition at the door. This is highly recommended.
GLORIA – SEASON DETAILS
DATES: Playing now until 22 June 2019
TIMES: Tuesday to Friday 7.30pm, Saturdays 2pm and 7.30pm
BOOKINGS: www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/gloria or (02) 9351 7940
TICKETS: Adults $47 | Concession $38 | Cheap Tuesdays $33
Warning: This production contains challenging and confronting content as well as loud sound effects.