Review: GLORIA

by Lynn on March 5, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Streetcar Crowsnest (Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.). Produced by ARC in association with Crow’s Theatre. Until March 20, 2022.

Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Directed by André Sills

Set and costumes designed by Jackie Chau

Lighting designed by Chris Malkowski

Sound designed by Christopher Stanton

Cast: Deborah Drakeford

Carlos Gonzalez-Vio

Jonelle Gunderson

Savion Roach

Nabil Traboulsi

athena kaitlin trinh

GLORIA is a bristling satire by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins being given a dandy production directed by André Sills.

The Story. The play takes place in 2010 in the gut-twisting-deadline-filled world of magazine writing. The twenty-something assistants to the editors are all waiting for their big break in writing something that will set them on their meteoric rise to fame. The well-educated interns decide if they want to become assistants or find something more fulfilling. And then something happens to change an ordinary day of waiting for work from a boss and going for coffee runs into something startling. The opportunity to write about it presents itself and again Branden Jacobs-Jenkins turns that on its head.

The Production. Act I begins in the magazine office in New York City. Act II is eight months later in a coffee shop in New York and then two years later in a film and television production office in Los Angles.  Jackie Chan has designed a spare, efficient office that designates where a person is on the ladder to success. The bosses, Nan and Gloria, have their own offices with a door, usually closed. The assistants to the bosses—Dean, Ani, Kendra–work in cubicles, suggested by the placement of the small desks and chairs. The intern, Miles is also in that mix who works for all of them. There is a counter acting as a reception point where Ani works, that also works in Act II as a coffee bar. The desks, wall coverings and other furnishings will be changed to create the coffee bar and the hip production office.

At the beginning of Act I it’s 10:48 am. Miles (Savion Roach) the intern is at his desk working while listening to classical music through his headphones. He has probably been there since 9 am.  Ani (Jonelle Gunderson) an assistant is there answering the phones for an unseen boss who is also there in a meeting with a client. Dean (Nabil Traboulsi), an assistant, rushes in, hung over, anxious. He went to a party hosted by Gloria, (a senior editor in the office) the night before and it was a disaster because few people from the office went. Dean stayed the whole evening to be polite and drank too much.  Kendra (athena kaitlin trinh) arrives soon after Dean holding a cup of coffee, a shopping bag and a stylish handbag. The dynamics of the office are soon clear. Dean and Kendra are usually at each other’s throats. Dean comments that Kendra is late for work (never mind that he just arrived) and she replies with how bad he looks. She says she has been working on a story about clothing sales and on spec.

Dean does have hopes of being a writer. As played by Nabil Traboulsi, Dean is a bit hyper, anxious, charged with the high anxiety of the office but trying to control it. He is sensitive to others, especially Gloria. Traboulsi beautifully paces Dean’s growing anxiety and animosity towards Kendra. He is observant about what is going on in that office. Kendra is fascinating and athena kaitlin trinh gives an honourable performance of this compelling character. Kendra is watchful and knows how to read the room and note everybody’s weaknesses for her own purposes. She’s masterful in putting down her colleagues, either to their face or behind their backs. She creates discord and doubt, certainly with Dean. She knows how office politics work and she plays them to rise up the ladder seemingly without doing any serious work. As Kendra, athena kaitlin trinh nails her ‘knee-jerk’ reactions to comment. But I think there is more to Kendra than that. She is wily, manipulative and conniving, and I think athena kaitlin trinh can dig a bit deeper to find more nuance and subtlety and reveal that calculating brain.  

Savion Roach plays Miles as a sweet, helpful, accommodating young man who is still making up his mind about what to do. He does know how to play the game—he gets chocolate bars and bottles of water for the assistants without complaint; he says good-by to the boss after his time in the office. Savion Roach plays other characters in the play as well with clear differentiation and fluid body language.

In her quiet way Ani as played by Janelle Gunderson is watchful and right on the ball with taking every opportunity to check out what is happening in that office, but being unobtrusive. She is collegial—although she didn’t go to Gloria’s party—but still pleasant to those in her orb. She too plays other characters in Act II each illuminating in their own way. As Gloria, Deborah Drakeford reveals a character consumed by doubt, insecurity, needy and desperate. It’s a compact, clear, powerful performance. And it speaks volumes about how self-absorbed the other office people were that they either didn’t notice or care about Gloria’s situation.  

Carlos Gonzalez-Vio as Lorin has the most defined arc of all the characters. In Act I Lorin is an overworked, stressed fact checker who just wants some quiet in his job. In Act II, two years later, he seems to have found his peace. But the most interesting aspect of him is that of all the other characters, he’s the one who was aware of Gloria the most, from the fact that she made her lunches and shared them if one enquired about them, and knew her as a person. Gonzalez-Vio reveals the character of Lorin in a detailed performance.

In his directorial debut, André Sills has created an assured, solid production that illuminates the drama and satire of the piece. Relationships are established with clarity and intelligence. Scenes are changes with ease and even its own humour, especially in Act II, scene 2. And André Sills knows how to carefully build tension until its explosive conclusion.

Comment. In Gloria playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is satirizing so much in our hyper-anxious, superficial world. In Act I he has created the ambitious, cutting world of twenty-something strivers who want to be writers, who inarticulately pepper their speech with the filler-drivel word “like” used as everything except properly as a simile. And what they write is generally superficial.  Jacobs-Jenkins is illuminating our slavish devotion to celebrity culture, as if a celebrity gives stature and credibility to a film or tv series. Characters gleefully announce that no one reads magazines anymore, and certainly not in something as old fashioned as ‘hard copy’. Then characters gleefully lament no one reads books unless they are made into movies, so that then they will read the book. He has created characters who are self-absorbed, but layered with contradictions. The twenty-something characters, heads down checking cell-phones or their screens, lack nuance or care for their colleagues. The older characters are more aware of the subtleties of the world around them. They might be disappointed by what they see, but they are aware of their fellow humans.

Gloria is a complex, multi-layered play that captures the vagaries of an ever changing world in which the decisionmakers seems to be just out of their teens. It’s created by a gifted playwright with laser vision to the foibles around us. This production does a dandy job of bringing that bristling play to tingling life.

Produced by ARC in association with Crow’s Theatre.

Running until March 20.

Running Time: two hours with a 20-minute intermission.

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