Playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ An Octoroon was one of the most praised and discussed plays of last season - a mind-blowing theatrical experience for those lucky enough to catch it at either SoHo Playhouse or Theatre for a New Audience. Although Jacob-Jenkins’ new work, Gloria, does not employ as many theatrical tricks as its “meta” predecessor – there’s at least one “wow moment” in this new play, but not several – this show achieves greater emotional depth thanks to characters and events from our immediate and very real (and frightening) world. Recently extended to July 18th, you should run not walk to the latest from one of New York’s most exciting artists.
Taking place in the Manhattan offices of a contemporary national magazine, a competitive environment likely inspired by Jacob-Jenkins’ time spent working at The New Yorker, Gloria’s first act focuses on the banter, gripes, and general office gossip between a small group of ambitious twenty-something editorial assistants: Ani, an even-tempered conflict avoider who one character calls “fake”; Dean, the acerbic, jaded and insecure elder of the group; and Kendra, an arrogant, ultra-competitive aspiring writer who has been labeled a “tiger” because she’s Asian-American.
The other characters include Miles, a young African-American intern who calls out the fact that, although this is a prestigious organization, everyone seems pretty miserable; Lorin, a sad sack fact checker in his late 30s; and the eponymous Gloria, an extremely awkward, frazzled woman in her late 30s who Kendra refers to as the “office freak;” and Nan, the editor (mostly offstage in the first act) for whom Dean assists and the one who is closest to being an authoritarian figure.
The plot is hard to describe without giving too much away. What can be said is that the dialogue of the first act is witty and often laugh-out-loud funny. But, most impressively, it rings absolutely true for anyone who has worked in an office for a media company (or any company, for that matter). Really, anyone who has ever cared about career goals, or toiled on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder, will find relatable content here.
We see these characters maneuvering for status, backstabbing and front-stabbing each other, fretting and peacocking over how to execute important tasks, sometimes hiding, but sometimes laying bare their personal insecurities about how they’ve chosen to spend their working lives.
The second act is more focused as it involves how characters react to surprising and not-to-be-spoiled events that take place in the first. Meanwhile, there are a swirl of themes at work, more than just commentary on career ambitions and office inter-politics. There is also much to think about regarding the ethics of storytelling and the degree of ownership we have over events in our lives. Themes of race and class complicate the material further.
As with An Octoroon, multiple viewings may be required, and demanded, to help digest what has become one of the most talked-about post-Tony productions of the summer.
Gloria is playing at the Vineyard Theatre, at 108 East 15th Street, NY, NY, through July 18th.
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