Los Angeles Theater Review: GLORIA (Echo Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on October 2, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


If anyone should dislike the confrontational and cynical aspects of Echo Theatre’s knockout L.A. premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria, I assert it’s no fault of the artists involved, including the playwright. This 2015 Off-Broadway two-act is unsettling, shocking and funny as it scathingly depicts the poorly-paid, dead-end, “soul-sucking” jobs of bored and, often, miserable cogs in the wheel of a Manhattan zine.

The second act’s bitter sequel exposes venal and amoral ambitions: After a workplace atrocity, some are willing to profit from pain by possibly exorcising, but definitely exploiting, the experience with the writing of a book. (This cannibalism of a crisis may atone for the dreary drudgery they have had to endure, toiling as scribes in the dying publishing industry.) This two-hour tour de trauma raises intriguing questions about the limits of journalistic inquiry, whether in self-imposed standards of decency about what not to probe, or the self-serving non-disclosure agreements that stifle free expression.

Sitting at cubicles are Ani (Alana Dietze, stunningly versatile), a professional but nosy subordinate; Kendra (Jenny Soo, frighteningly cold), a sniping fashion follower who avoids work like the plague; and Dean (a superb Michael Sturgis, passionate, vulnerable, and organic), an unfulfilled, frustrated worker who feels stuck in his job with little hope of advancement or recognition. Behind these editorial assistants is Miles (Devere Rogers, authentic whether he’s affable or angry), a college student intern and errand boy. Lorin, the head fact-checker (Steven Strobel, who goes from time-bomb to touching), works down the hall and complains about their noise. One of the objects of gossip is Gloria (Jessica Goldapple), an older and reclusive editor, who hosted a party the previous evening that no one attended except a hungover Dean.

In Act II, the actors appear again, but some have been assigned new roles in addition to those we’ve met already. The fact that we know who they were before becomes sort of a causal anecdote about the revolving door of a writing career. Dianne K. Graebner’s awesome costumes and wigs contribute immensely to the character transformations.

Each actor is so tremendous that singling one out seems illogical. Yet the chameleonic Goldapple perhaps achieves the greatest dramatic turnaround among this estimable ensemble. In Act I, she’s the unseen voice of Nan, a distracted boss who can’t even remember an intern’s name. She’s also the sad-sack, perplexing titular character, Gloria, who wanders in and out of the scene with an odd demeanor. However, in the second act Ms. Goldapple morphs back to Nan – twice. First following the fallout from the office, then a year later when she’s progressed into a wholly different woman — stronger and wiser — who’s known family and success in a whole new light.

The dialogue is smartly written, but especially witty and snarky in the first act. When Kendra complains about straight white men dominating the publishing industry, Dean says, “Kendra, you’re a rich Asian girl from Pasadena with a degree from Harvard. That is essentially a privileged straight white man.”

Whether you profess Gloria to be either a purposefully provocative play that pillories parasites or a premeditated and putrid paradise for pessimists isn’t the point. It’s thought-provoking, gut-churning, blood-pounding theater, a rare commodity these days. Give me director Chris Field’s extraordinarily well-cast nail-biter over easy escapism any day.

photos by Darrett Sanders

Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave.
Fri, Sat, and Mon at 8; Sun at 4
ends on October 21, 2018
EXTENDED to October 28, 2018
for tickets, call 310.307.3753 or visit Echo

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