Gamm’s Gloria both Shocking and Shockingly Relevant

GamOn the surface, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria appears to be about millennials trying to make it as employees of a print magazine, just as such “primitive” forms of news are beginning to die. Even if that premise were the sole basis for the play, that would be enough to make for a potentially interesting show. But Gloria is a play that yields to no one’s expectations. It is both shocking and shockingly relevant, despite being set circa prehistoric 2010, when social media was only just starting to own everyone’s souls and denial of objective truth wasn’t America’s favorite pastime. This work is powerful and meaty, which is to be expected from a Gamm production.

The first act introduces us to a miserable band of editorial assistants, all stereotypical millennials, all terrified of the possibility of turning 30 and still working in a cubicle. First in the office is the young intern, Miles (Marc Pierre), a Harvard student who despite the soul-crushing environment, still holds onto hope for the future – can you imagine? Next is Ani (Alison Russo), the “pretty nerd” working at the magazine until she can figure out something better to do with her neuroscience degree. Dean (Jeff Church) rolls in around 11, hungover and attempting to hide his memoir manuscript from his coworkers. Last to arrive is the loud-mouthed Kendra (Jordan Clark), who arrives with Starbucks in hand, delivers a scathing monologue about baby boomers, attempts to sabotage a coworker’s career and, by noon, sets off on another Starbucks run.

We then meet Lorin (Gabriel Graetz) (the fact checker from down the hall who seems to be the only one in the office who does any work) when he pokes his head in to ask the soulless sycophants to keep it down. It’s on his third such visit, during which he has an emotional breakdown over having to rush a profile on a celebrity who has just died to print, in which he proclaims he wishes he were dead as well, that he won me over as perhaps my favorite character in Gloria. He and Miles are probably the most tolerable of the bunch, which isn’t saying much, considering how insufferable the likes of Dean and Kendra are.

Then there is the title character, Gloria (Jennifer Mischley), the “office freak,” who flits in and out with an anxious energy. Though she’s been at the office the longest, no one seems to respect her, seemingly because she’s socially awkward. The previous night, she threw a house-warming party that the entire office was invited to, but only Dean attended.

And then, something happens that changes everything. To give away what that something is would be absolutely criminal.

The remainder of the play consists of the aftermath of this aforementioned event – namely, everyone scrambling to profit off of what has happened, have their story told and get their 15 minutes of fame. Here is where the play becomes about much more than it originally seemed, as topics such as media saturation, our questionable priorities in the face of a continual onset of (usually bad) news, and the ideas of kindness and being present. The more you examine the story, the more there is to it.

The staging (featuring Rachel Walshe’s direction and Jessica Hill’s sets) features some brilliant choices that particularly come to light in the second act. The entirety of the second and third acts, which take place not in the office of the first act, but in a Starbucks and in another office, happens on the floor in front of the stage. Meanwhile, the first act is still set on the stage behind it, where evidence of that climactic event still remains and still draws the audience’s eye, perhaps in the same way the characters are still impacted by it.

This is a play that sticks with you, for the shock perhaps as much as the social commentary. It’s easy to see Gloria as a damning report on what society has become; it is certainly critical, but not unreasonably so, but there is also hope. In the final moments of the play, though no one seems interested in listening, one character dares to speak previously buried truths that humanize someone that everyone else seems eager to sensationalize. He then blocks out the incessant chatter of the office with the “Gloria” section of Bach’s Mass in B Minor – a strain woven throughout the show – and finds a moment of peace among the chaos. Here, among otherwise disgustingly ambitious and cruel characters, we see someone who isn’t consumed by the rat race or swept up by sensationalism. Where a lot of the play focuses on the worst of humanity, here, we see the best.

Gloria runs at the Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, through Dec 16. For tickets, visit gammtheatre.org

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