Intellectual cannibalism among the denizens of a highbrow journal?
Sounds kinda niche, right?
And it has to be said, American writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ black-comic drama will have particular resonance for survivors of the publishing industry.
But in the same way that Ricky Gervais’ squirm-inducing The Office presented a paper products company as a microcosm of a millennial Britain, so Gloria raises a mirror to morality in the Instagram age.
You might not like what you see reflected.
Gloria is delivered in three acts with a timescale of two years. The first is set in the New York office of a magazine struggling to reconcile past triumphs with waning influence.
And nowhere is that waning felt more keenly than on the culture desk, whose occupants – twentysomethings with no career path – spend more time monitoring each other than they do the outside world.
Their banter, peppered with putdowns and taunts, is at best mildly poisonous. With prolonged exposure, it’s toxic.
Editor’s assistant Dean (Rowan Witt) has arrived late this morning, nursing a hangover from an ill-fated apartment-warming party the night before.
Behind a glass wall sits senior editor Nancy (Georgina Symes), a relic of the magazine’s 1980s heyday. We see nothing and hear little of her at first, except for the sounds of her throwing up in the wastebasket.
Kendra (Michelle Ny) turns up later still, toting boutique shopping bags and a caffeinated, competitive attitude.
Both take pleasure in warning science genius-turned-magazine writer Ani (Annabel Harte) of what happens when a fun summer job turns into a career.
Little wonder then that Miles (Justin Amankwah), an intern on his final day, is leaving convinced that publishing is probably not a career he need pursue.
As the morning wears on, Dean and Kendra’s war of words results in increasingly heated incursions from stressed-out fact-checker Lorin (Reza Momenzada).
And now and again, we see Gloria, the long-serving copy editor nobody seems to have the time of day for.
By the end of the first act, however, her name will be stamped in the annals of notoriety.
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Part satire, part cautionary tale, Jacobs-Jenkins’ script glitters with malevolent humour and bristles with flippantly weaponised politics.
It delivers its emotional punch early (you’re glad of an interval straight afterwards) and packs multiple stings in a long tail spanning two acts – one set in a Starbucks coffee shop, the other in the office of a Los Angeles film company some 18 months later.
It’s in that final scene that we are reintroduced to Lorin, whose struggle to come to terms with the enormity of his experience contrasts sharply with the readiness of his former colleagues to exploit it.
Fly-on-the-wall dramas such as Gloria demand pinpoint performances and a near invisible yet firm hand at the controls. This production, from Outhouse Theatre Company (The Rolling Stone; The Flick) ticks both boxes.
On painstakingly accurate sets (by Jeremy Allen), director Alexander Berlage and his cast demonstrate a keen sense for funny/unfunny micro-aggressions at the interpersonal level. Berlage also keeps an unwavering grip on the levers of tension and release.
The acting is pitch perfect.
Witt extracts all the painful fine detail in Dean, the insecure assistant wrestling with the demon of a creeping dread of turning 30 in this Logan’s Run of an environment. His sourpuss IT guy in the third act is quite brilliant.
Symes is a convincingly brittle Gloria, and contrastingly assured as Nancy. Harte is very sharp as the whip-smart good girl Ani and funny as a chirpy film company PA.
Ny captures the sass and spite in Kendra and she handles a long-winded speech about the publishing industry in the Internet age (which feels like it’s been inserted for audience members who’ve been living under a rock since 2005) extremely well.
Amankwah backs up his reputation-making performance in The Flick last year with excellent turns as Miles, a garrulous Starbucks employee, and a high-flying studio exec with a talent for turning Insta feeds into movies.
Momenzada is the only actor playing one character and he makes Lorin’s arc compelling. Gloria‘s emotional impact is due in no small part to his work.
Gloria is gripping theatre that sends you home with questions buzzing around your head (about tragedy as entertainment; about agency and exploitation) and, maybe, a determination to be a little more attentive to the person in the next door cubicle.