His new play Gloria goes in another direction, a scathing satire of the media (magazine work, book publishing and television development) as well as the public’s frenzy for the details of high profile news stories. Evan Cabnet who has also piloted new plays by Theresa Rebeck and Christopher Shinn, has cast his crackerjack production with some astute newcomers to local stages (Catherine Combs, Jennifer Kim, and Ryan Spahn) as well as some accomplished New York veterans (Kyle Beltran, Jeanine Serralles, and Micahel Crane) in this always absorbing office drama. The cast is articulate and smooth-tongued as they should be playing people in the media.
Gloria begins in the editorial office of a once famous magazine, now a little bit declassed from its former glory. (The author once worked at The New Yorker.) Editorial assistants Dean (Spahn) and Kendra (Kim) worry about being stuck in dead-end jobs the rest of their lives while plotting their way out, at the same time that they bitchily backbite to see who can score the most points. Dean is secretly writing a memoir and Kendra has a blog she hopes will take her to the next level.
There is so little to occupy their time that Dean comes in hungover for the third time this week and Kendra comes in late from a shopping excursion. Receptionist Ani (Combs) is nice to everyone at the same time that she noses around for gossip, while all take advantage of Miles (Beltran), the Ivy League intern, who after six weeks is already bored with his job. Behind glass partitions, the actual editors are nowhere to be seen.
The buzz around the office is, first, the housewarming party of Gloria (Serralles) from the Copy desk the night before. As Gloria is “the office freak,” the employee stuck longest in an unenviable job and with almost no personality, everyone decided not to show up for her party. Except that Dean went, thinking others were going and feeling sorry for Gloria, the butt of so many jokes. It is also that day that it is announced that a famous pop singer has died of an overdose and a profile about her has to be readied for publication by evening, a tough deadline. Lorin (Crane), the new head fact checker, overwhelmed by his recent deadlines, continually comes in to the editorial office to ask that they keep the noise down – even if they don’t seem to have much to do.
Just when you are wondering where all this is going, a horrendous act of violence occurs, and the curtain falls on Act One. The second act recounts the aftermath for the staff as well as the media frenzy. Set in a Starbucks somewhere in Midtown Manhattan, the first scene takes place eight months later as three of the staff are working on placing book deals that they hope will make them rich and famous. The final scene, set two years later, takes us to the office of a Los Angeles television production company where a series is being developed based on one of the memoirs. Ironically, it is written by someone who saw the least and hardly knew any of her colleagues. In each of these final scenes, two of the earlier characters are brought face to face, each with his or her own take on what happened and how it affected them. The media has a lot to answer for.
While all but one of the actors play multiple and contrasting parts, each is most memorable in one juicily written role. Jennifer Kim, best known for her recurring roles on The Blacklist and Mozart in the Jungle, makes Kendra the most notable character, ambitious, vicious and not caring who she steps on as she climbs the corporate ladder, leaving no stone unturned to get ahead. Ryan Spahn also makes his presence felt as the high-strung, alcoholic Dean, definitely on the road to a fall.
Seen recently in Atlantic Theater’s Dying for It and The Jammer, Labyrinth Theater’s The Muscles in Our Toes, and Red Bull Theater’s The Maids, Jeanine Serralles demonstrates why she is in such demand, first playing a mousy editor with little to say, and then returning as a hypocritical one who knows how to game the system. It isn’t until the final scene that Michael Crane’s neurotic Lorin from the fact–check department becomes the moral arbiter when we meet him two years later, the only one who has not attempted to cash in by having been a witness. Kyle Beltran, who has appeared in the musicals In the Heights and The Fortress of Solitude, is amusing in three contrasting roles which could not be more different. Catherine Combs also plays three roles, variations on the same type, the good listener who has her ear to the pulse of the office.
Takeshi Kata’s three sets make their own statement, two different offices on opposite coasts which look amazingly the same and a coffee shop that is instantly recognizable. The costumes by Ilona Somogyi delineate the truth of dressing for success, while Matt Frey’s lighting suggests we live in a world where the spotlight is always on. Matt Tierney’s sound design features Baroque music before the scenes which has the soothing equilibrium that these offices and meeting places ought to have but don’t.
Following the critically acclaimed New York productions of An Octoroon and Appropriate, iconoclastic playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has his third success in the past 15 months with his satiric and absorbing Gloria. This is the sort of play that makes you itch to see what its author will tackle next. And let’s not forget the excellent cast (with its three New York debuts) directed by Evan Cabnet who makes this play such a caustic view of the media as it exists today.
Gloria (through July 18, 2015)
The Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212–353-0303 or visit http://www.vineyardtheatre.org
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including an intermission