Sharp social satire finds its target
|Goodman Theatre presents|
Review by John Olson
The millennials working in the office of the unnamed New York lifestyle magazine (think the New Yorker because playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins once worked there) would seem to have dream jobs in a glamour industry. But before many of Jacobs-Jenkins lines have been spoken, we see they don’t feel that way. Their editor bosses ignore or abuse them, promotions are rare, and these peers – who have been in in entry level jobs for years after having been promoted from presumably unpaid internships – are constantly sniping against each other.
There’s Dean (Ryan Spahn), pushing age 30, who is derided by the others for his incessant networking – even going so far as to be the only co-worker to attend a housewarming party thrown by the lonely long-time employee Gloria (Jeanine Serralles). Kendra (Jennifer Kim) is ambitious and competitive in spite of the fact that she makes frequent, extended trips to Starbucks when she should be working. A third neighbor in the island of cubicles depicted in Takeshi Kata‘s office set (realistically and harshly lit by Matt Frey) is Ani (Catherine Combs) – more detached and passive than the others but equally cynical. Lorin (Michael Crane) works down the hall and seems defeated, only engaging with the others to come into their room and ask them to keep quiet. The current intern MIles (Kyle Beltran) is viewed with suspicion because he has the audiacity to show up for work on time.
Editorially, the magazine appears to be focused on celebrity profiles (so maybe we’re supposed to be thinking it’s “People”) and, when a pop singer unexpectedly dies, much of the staff is in a frenzy to write an obituary. The irony of this "people-focused" magazine staffed by people who don’t seem to care much about other people is Jacobs-Jenkins’ point. When his characters aren’t taking shots at people in or out of the room, they’re lost in their headphones listening to music. This is the launching point for the author’s all-out attack on a media industry that profits from the public’s obsession with celebrity – treating it as a commodity to be sold via books, movies and TV series; consumed by people who have an interest in the lives and trials of others they have learned abut through the media. Interest in your neighbors or co-workers? Maybe not so much.
Jacobs-Jenkins makes his points clearly and viciously in this sharply-observed satire of contemporary life. His primary target is millennials, but he takes aim at the generation before them with equal force if not equal stage time. His dialogue is sharp and believable, often bitterly funny even as it packs an emotional punch, justifying the play’s status as a 2016 Pultizer Prize finalist. Director Evan Cabnet and the cast that originated the play in Spring and Summer 2015 at New York City’s Vineyard Theatre are all on-the-mark and impressive in playing dual roles that bring the playwright’s social satire to life.
Jacobs-Jenkins might deserve a few point deductions for over-reliance on coincidence in the second act. There, he also introduces a new theme that’s drawn with a rather broad satirical brush, going beyond his tone of the first act, but we see the points he’s making. More importantly, we feel them. Gloria is a cautionary tale that’s funny, while being, as intended, more than a little frightening.
Gloria continues through February 19th at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $25-$85, and are available by phone (312-443-3800) or through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GoodmanTheatre.org. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
NOTE: Contains scenes that may be disturbing. Intended for mature audiences.
Photos by Liz Lauren
behind the scenes
Evan Cabnet (director), Takeshi Kata (set design), Ilona Somogyi (costume design), Matt Frey (lighting design), Matt Tierney (sound design), Cookie Jordan (wig and hair design), J. David Brimmer (fight choreography), Jonathan L. Green (dramaturgy), Brianna J. Fahey (production stage manager), KImberly Ann McCann (stage manager), Adam Belcuore, Erica Sartini-Combs (casting), Liz Lauren (photographs)