Are bright, ambitious, educated Millennials really that awful? Do they really distain coming to work on time? Do they really spend more time at Starbucks than at their desks? Do they really do that much sniping and gossiping? Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ GLORIA, now onstage at Goodman Theatre, builds a convincing and piercingly funny case that his generation does all that and less when it comes to substance.
This is not to say that GLORIA is without substance. The play comments with astute irreverence on the staff of a cultural magazine under extreme existential duress. No one reads magazines for truth anymore, notes one character. If they even read magazines at all. No wonder these aspiring writers are simultaneously fighting for their professional lives and personally wondering if it even matters. Success lies not in acquiring skills and experience. It comes with just the right clickbait to push them out of obscurity.
Grease pole climbing on the Goodman Theatre stage
GLORIA’s people, struggling up New York’s publishing grease pole, do not engender sympathy – at least not until events take a sharp turn later on. The hyper-verbal editorial assistants begin their work day when it suits them. Dean (Ryan Spahn) is recovering from a hangover, Kendra (Jennifer Kim) has gone clothes shopping first, Ani (Catherine Combs) is on social media. Miles (Kyle Beltran), the prompt black Ivy League intern, shuts out their triviality with earphones. Meanwhile, Lorin (Michael Crane), the stressed-out Gen X-aged fact checker down the hall, repeatedly implores them to hold the noise down so his department can work.
GLORIA’s authentic Gloria
Much of the conversation involves a disastrous party hosted the night before by Gloria, a lonely longtime fact-checker. Only Dean had the courtesy to show up and then drank too much to get through it. Labelled an old maid in an earlier era, Gloria authentically embodies so many desperate New Yorkers who live alone in tiny overpriced dwellings and justify it all by their proximity to the intellectually glamorous.
The office chatter is disrupted by news that a famous female singer has died of an overdose. “Opioids?” cries Dean, “Oh my God, finally.” The magazine moves into high gear as a blog post on the singer, written by someone in another department, is transformed into a full feature. That adds pressure to the fact checkers and heightens jealousy among the others. Why should that young author get the career boost of writing about a celebrity’s premature death?
True colors keep shiningAmid this new tension, a catastrophic event occurs and lives are shattered. But personalities tend to evolve rather than change. Clamoring to exploit the same story from their different vantage points in Act II, GLORIA’s newly-damaged characters behave in ways that are consistent with their essential natures. Their true colors keep shining through; and by and large, these are not pretty colors.
Moments of compassion and wisdomFor all of Jacobs-Jenkins’ snarky cynicism, his script and director Evan Cabnet’s production allow moments of compassion and wisdom to emerge. Michael Crane’s overwrought Lorin reveals his deep vulnerability. Jeanine Serralles plays a senior editor who reconsiders her very existence in a penetrating confession to a colleague. With Starbucks cup in hand, she unleashes emotions that surprise no one more than herself.
GLORIA is by turns enlightening and distasteful as it shows the zeal with which writers will seize a terrible narrative for their own purposes. As these unhappy Millennials demonstrate, their generation views a job as a lily pad from which to launch their next jump. Unfortunately, as GLORIA also shows, they learned this from the generations that preceded them.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Now through February 19
Wednesdays : 7:30 PM
Thursdays: 2:00 & 7:30 PM
Fridays: 8:00 PM
Saturdays: 2:00 & 8:00 PM
Sunday : 2:00 & 7:30 pm
(No matinees on January 28 & February 16; no evening performances on February 12 & 19)
170 N. Dearborn
$20 – 85
Photos by Liz Lauren
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her Jeff-winning play Arrangement for Two Violas will be published by Chicago Dramaworks in spring 2017.