By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Alexander Berlage
An Outhouse Theatre Company and Seymour Centre Production
Cnr City Road and Chippendale Street
Season: 6 – 22 June 2019. Bookings: www.seymourcentre.com
Ever wanted to work in publishing? There’s exhilaration, drama, intrigue and lots of money to be made. You’ll also meet an interesting array of people, especially in the workplace.
Take Gloria for example. She’s been a loyal employee with the same company in New York City for 15 years. She does normal things: likes television, keeps to herself, takes her own lunch to work in Tupperware containers. But her co-workers call her “office freak” behind her back.
You see, unlike her colleagues, Gloria does not backstab and undermine everyone. She doesn’t gossip or spread nasty rumours. And she hasn’t stepped over people to climb the greasy pole of success. That’s why she’s weird, the office freak.
Poor Gloria, if only she was loud, brash and insincere she would do so well in publishing.
Gloria is an insight into contemporary American workplace behaviour. Using a publishing company in the Big Apple as his platform, writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins sheds the fake veneer of glamour and excitement to reveal an industry beset with artificial, shallow people. American corporate life, which for generations has regarded the talents of people to be the number one resource, has become riddled with lowly paid interns, high staff turnover and poor morale.
In Act 1, Jacobs-Jenkins introduces his characters as part of a typical day at the office. Ani (Annabel Harte) is the efficient assistant/secretary, pretty in presentation with a smooth phone manner. She’s on top of what’s happening in the workplace and is not reluctant to snoop for confidential information when the opportunity arises. Kendra (Michelle Ny) is the twenty-seven-year-old cynical know-it-all, with a carefree attitude she arrives late after having gone shopping for designer specials.
Also arriving late and hungover is Dean (Rowan Witt), an affable and ambitious writer in his late 20’s. He had been to a party at Gloria’s place the night before, one to which all had been invited, but only four people turned up. Dean at least had the civility to attend, unlike the others who had no intention of mixing with the ‘weirdo’.
The office banter between Ani, Kendra and Dean is loud and unreserved. They are all unhappy in their jobs and each have ‘escape plans’ they hope to one day utilise. Their conversation and laughter filter down the hallway where Lorin (Reza Momenzada) is feverishly trying to fact check a story with a fast-approaching deadline. He asks them three times to quieten down, but they don’t care.
Someone else in the workplace is Miles (Justin Amankwah). He is on his last day of an internship. His main role appears to be an observer and coffee-slave for the others around him. However, he manages to give everyone a career-shaking fright when he gets to have a long, one-on-one chat with the boss, Nan.
Of course, also at work this fine morn is Gloria (Georgina Symes). She seems rattled and a little bit weirder than usual. Perhaps she’s just upset about the poor turnout to her party. Who could blame her? Gloria is also anxious to know where Kendra is, but why?
In Act Two and Three, time has passed, and we see some of the characters in a different light. Life has moved on. There is a pregnancy, an impending breakdown and everywhere it seems, there is a book deal to be chased. Hey, this is America and if you’re not on the bandwagon, you’ve got no chance.
The play moves along at a cracking pace, the audience engrossed by the skilful direction of Alexander Berlage. He has a very talented cast and superb script to work with. Gloria is a drama and all the players have some terrific monologues to present. Most have multiple roles as well. They acted with relish and with well-mastered mannerisms and accents. However, it is laced with humour and sadness but by the end, our emotions have been properly washed, dried and put back in place.
Gloria deals with plenty of hot contemporary topics such as depression, racism, sexism, bullying, ambition, success, failure, motherhood and mortality. Being set largely in Manhattan, the actors get free reign to embellish their roles with characteristic New York animation and loudness.
The creatives did a fine job as well. Sets varied from the modern workplace to street café to television creative department. They were all well-detailed and bright.
I found Gloria to be one of the best all-round plays I’ve seen lately. It was deservedly a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. An absolute must see!