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updated: 1/25/2017 12:24 PM

Corporate satire 'Gloria' at Goodman takes shocking, provocative turn

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  • Video: "Gloria" trailer

  • Jeanine Serralles plays the titular character in The Vineyard Theatre's production of "Gloria," a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Goodman Theatre remounts The Vineyard's off-Broadway production.

    Jeanine Serralles plays the titular character in The Vineyard Theatre's production of "Gloria," a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Goodman Theatre remounts The Vineyard's off-Broadway production.
    Courtesy of Liz Lauren

 
 

How well do you know your co-workers? Beyond sharing office gossip, an occasional lunch or a beer at a colleague's going-away party, what do you really know about the men and women with whom you spend 40-plus hours a week?

Not much beyond the superficial, I bet.

The thought persisted during Monday's opening of "Gloria," Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' tantalizing, darkly comic exposé of ambition and egoism running at the Goodman Theatre, which imported lock, stock and barrel The Vineyard Theatre's acclaimed off-Broadway premiere.

A corporate satire -- whose shocking left turn before intermission left many audience members slack-jawed -- "Gloria" unfolds at a once esteemed, now besieged New York magazine. (Think The New Yorker, where Jacobs-Jenkins, a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist and MacArthur Foundation genius grant recipient, once worked.)

Declining readership and diminishing advertising revenue forced layoffs and cutbacks, including the elimination of free coffee and cab fare. Employees are tense. The environment, underscored by fear and frustration, is toxic. And no amount of superficial congeniality can restore it.

Ryan Spahn, left, Jennifer Kim and Catherine Combs play twenty-something editorial assistants at a New York City magazine in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' "Gloria," running through Feb. 19 at Goodman Theatre.
Ryan Spahn, left, Jennifer Kim and Catherine Combs play twenty-something editorial assistants at a New York City magazine in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' "Gloria," running through Feb. 19 at Goodman Theatre. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Unseen editors hide behind frosted glass. Steps away, their well-educated, hyper-articulate millennial assistants chat, complain and plot their next career moves.

Striving Kendra (a fiercely overbearing Jennifer Kim) badmouths her colleagues and fumes over her stagnant career, which she blames on entrenched Baby Boomers. Ani (Catherine Combs) bides her time, secure in the safety net her engineering degree affords. Nearing 30, aspiring writer Dean (Ryan Spahn in a raw, emotional performance) networks endlessly hoping to snag a book deal for his memoir.

Michael Crane is one of the original cast members from The Vineyard Theatre's off-Broadway premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' "Gloria." The remount runs at the Goodman Theatre through Feb. 19.
Michael Crane is one of the original cast members from The Vineyard Theatre's off-Broadway premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' "Gloria." The remount runs at the Goodman Theatre through Feb. 19. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

With the exception of genially ambivalent intern Miles (Kyle Beltran), most of them are looking for a way out and up the ladder. With the exception of Miles, most of them are miserable.

And stressed. The drug-related death of a female pop singer adds to the already tense mood and sends the staff scrambling to work up a profile in time for the next issue. Attempting to manage the chaos is beleaguered fact checker Lorin (the quietly pained Michael Crane), whose job has sucked the life out of him. Orbiting unobtrusively is the sad-eyed, much-maligned Gloria (the graceful, understated Jeanine Serralles), a mousy copy editor devastated after nearly all her co-workers skipped her housewarming party the day before.

Ambition and opportunism drive the twenty-something employees of a New York magazine in "Gloria," a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Goodman Theatre's remount of The Vineyard Theatre's production stars Kyle Beltran, left, Ryan Spahn, Catherine Combs and Jennifer Kim.
Ambition and opportunism drive the twenty-something employees of a New York magazine in "Gloria," a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Goodman Theatre's remount of The Vineyard Theatre's production stars Kyle Beltran, left, Ryan Spahn, Catherine Combs and Jennifer Kim. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

The actors are first-rate. Serralles in particular delivers a performance as gripping as it is revelatory.

Evan Cabnet's incisive, gutsy direction suits the perceptive, painfully candid "Gloria," whose details Jacobs-Jenkins artfully teases over two acts to reveal a shocking tale in its entirety.

I've been purposefully obtuse about "Gloria's" details so as not to spoil it. But it's not a play for sensitive theatergoers.

I found it engrossing and honest, albeit cynical. And one of the questions it raises is one worth considering: How well do we know the guy or gal in the neighboring cubicle?

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