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Gloria

There is a reason that the dominant political and socio-economic paradigm on the planet is called "the rat race," as we see in this compelling and cautionary tale from one of the hottest playwrights in the business, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.1

(Left to right) Sydnee Fullmer as Ani, Brian Kusic as Dean, Rakeem Lawrence as Miles, and Desiree Mee jung as Kendra
(L to R) Sydnee Fullmer as Ani, Brian Kusic as Dean,
Rakeem Lawrence as Miles, and Desirée Mee jung as Kendra
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
Director Chip Walton, who also did the set design concept, has four office desks arranged in a square, separated only by clear plexiglass dividers, through which three editorial assistants and an intern gaze at one another and around which the they stalk each other, in the dog-eat-dog world of New York magazine publishing, during the 2010s.

A number of critics have compared the level of vituperative invective and money-grubbing backstabbing in this piece to David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, and such parallels are well-founded. In fact, one could argue that the events in Jacobs-Jenkins story up the ante.

Candace Joice as Gloria
Candace Joice as Gloria
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Like the actor's dream of moving to New York City and breaking into the big time, the writer's dream of making it is getting published, along with the attendant rewards of fame and fortune. Of course, the reality of the business is much different, as we shockingly discover when one of the long-suffering employees—Gloria—goes ballistic.

In the aftermath, Jacobs-Jenkins reveals the true nature of the rat race and its principle drivers: scarcity, fear, and violence.

In addition to the edgy staccoto rhythms of the opening scenes, which recall a Mamet-like rant, Jacobs-Jenkins' script is filled with defining moments in American culture that ring as true today as they did 94 years ago, when Calvin Coolidge uttered his oft-misquoted, famous judgment of "our way of life."

... the chief business of the American people is business.
—President Calvin Coolidge, in an address to the Society of American Newspaper Editors on January 17, 1925 in Washington, D.C.

While the script does not delve into the historical forces which brought to bear a culture based on the fear, scarcity, and violence—naturally endemic to systems driven by private control over money creation, and its modus operandi, rule by debt-slavery—it does a definitive job of detailing the effects of such an poisonous incubator.

Rakeem Lawrence as Miles
Rakeem Lawrence as Miles
Photo: Michael Ensminger
The stress around the rat cages is palpable. Like rodents deprived of nourishment, the penned-in editorial assistants—Ani (Sydnee Fullmer), Kendra (Desirée Mee Jung), and Dean (Brian Kusic)—begin to bare their teeth and bite, trading venom-tipped monologues denegrating each other and fellow co-workers, including Miles, the intern (Rakeem Lawrence).

Fullmer's Ani is the cool, tempered, and aloof Manhattan archetype; Mee Jung's Kendra is the hot, quick on her feet, and in-your-face Gotham go-getter; while Kusics's Dean is the devious, sarcastic, and vengeful Big Apple gadabout. Lawrence's Miles manages to remain unsullied by the mud-slinging, despite his treatment as a gopher, as the newly transplanted idealist. And then, there is Candace Joice's quirky, furtive, and ridiculed Gloria, every inch a time-bomb. In the second act, each of the ensemble members take on new roles.

Brian Landis Folkins as Lorin
Brian Landis Folkins as Lorin
Photo: Michael Ensminger
As the rats devour each other, standing alone is Brian Landis Folkins' perceptive, even-tempered, and humane Lorin, who intercedes whenever the compound dysfunctions of the group boil over. Ultimately, as push comes to shove, during the feeding frenzy in the rush-to-print race for the definitive lurid tell-all memoir—offered as red meat to satiate the public's perverse appetite for psychopathology—it is through Lorin, whose position in the firm is that of fact checker, that Jacobs-Jenkins delivers his powerful, unspoken critique, masterfully translated by Folkins.

Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of Gloria, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Chip Walton, runs through February 16th. For tickets: https://www.curioustheatre.org/event/gloria/.

Bob Bows



Footnote:
12014 Obie Award for Best New American Play, for his plays Appropriate and An Octoroon [Yes, his two plays tied!]. His plays Gloria and Everybody were finalists for the 2016 and 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama respectively. He was named a MacArthur Fellow for 2016.

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