Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

In Gloria, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins examines office culture at a large, New York-based magazine by focusing on a group of assistants and interns. The office gossip, the petty squabbles, the poorly concealed ambition, and the poisonous sense of privilege these millennials display is every bit as vicious as it is hilarious.

The discussion around the cubicles centers on a disastrous party thrown by the company’s least popular employee, Gloria. Dean (Michael Sturgis) is the only one of the group to have attended, and Ani (Alana Dietze) and Kendra (Jenny Soo) cackle in delight as they pull the uncomfortable details out of him. Realizing he was pretty much the only guest, Dean wound up spending his entire evening at the party.

The party is eclipsed the moment the news comes out that a pop diva is dead. While Ani and Kendra’s full-throated rendition of one of her hits isn’t enough to get a rise out their headphone-wearing intern, Miles (Devere Rogers), it does send Lorin (Steven Strobel), a highly-strung fact checker, scurrying across the hall in the hopes of ending the concert so he can get his work done on the diva’s obituary. Even Gloria (Jesicca Goldapple) makes several brief, but uncomfortably incomprehensible appearances.

Just when one is wondering whether there Is a point to all the banter and backstabbing, a shocking incident occurs which forcibly changes the focus and tone of the play. In the hands of a less-skilled playwright, such a galvanic shift could easily derail a production. But Jacobs-Jenkins, with help from Chris Fields’ skilfull and precise direction, manages the switch with grace.

Fields casts a remarkable ensemble featuring a number of Echo Theater veterans. The always watchable Dietze is quietly effective, while Soo relishes her opportunities and erupt in torrents of carefully crafted vitriol. Sturgis manages not to lose Dean’s humanity in the witty jeers and allows us to see the frightened boy lying just beneath the surface. Strobel, who seems unable to be anything but utterly endearing onstage, makes us laugh and empathize during his hysterical breakdown over workplace insensitivity, while his broken man in the second act is touchingly affecting.

Gloria is yet another pitch-perfect production from the Echo Theater Company.

Jacobs-Jenkins truly knows these characters and their world. He crafts sharp and sardonic dialog for them and allows their ambitions to run amok. He brings them to a moment of crisis and allows us to view the results. What we see is far from optimistic.

Echo Theater Company    September 15 – October 21, 2018