ARC and Crow’s Theatre welcome a live audience back for their production of Gloria. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ dramatic comedy takes satirical aim at the commodification of trauma. Egos and antagonism abound here as characters vie for ownership over the “story” of a tragic event.
We open on the office of a magazine—a once hot and trendy publication that, because of the internet, is waning towards collapse. We meet a group of editorial assistants, dripping with ennui, tossing barbs at each other over the head of a fresh-faced intern. Their shared dream of successful writing careers is crumbling, but that only intensifies their opportunism and hostility.
Gloria, a mousy and awkward oddball, is the haggard representative of the old guard of print publishing. When her bizarre behaviour takes a sudden, devastating turn at the end of the first scene, we spiral into a fever-dream of grotesque negotiations amongst the survivors.
The script grapples with millennial resentment towards baby boomer complacency and nostalgia for a lost way of professional life. The romantic ideal of a Mad Men-esque world of martini-swilling deal-makers hovers in the air, a precarious blend of memory and creative invention.
The cast is a solid line-up of reliables—Deborah Drakeford, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Jonelle Gunderson, Savion Roach, Nabil Traboulsi, athena kaitlin trinh. They capture, with precision and frequency, the endearing traits of these mostly unlikable people. Gonzalez-Vio’s dead-pan Lorin, the “fact-checker,” becomes, arguably, the story’s anchor and his exasperated intrusions in the first scene were a highlight for me.
André Sills’ directorial debut is efficient and punchy. He shapes the performances into a behavioural aesthetic that makes each character feel intensely iconic. You pretty much know who these people are the second they appear. I was too often aware, though, of their performative intentions.
This slight artificiality is in lock-step with Jacobs-Jenkins script, which is very thoughtful about the dangers of self-interest while having characters declaring pithy insights at each other. There is some pointed lamp-shading here too: at one point, a character alludes to a rant as “monologuing.”
From both the text and production, I sense that the story wants to erupt into wild absurdism. Bold histrionics creep at the fringes here, but it always falls back on a base-line naturalism that isn’t quite nuanced enough to be entirely real.
Jackie Chau’s set nails the deceptively cozy, awful blandness of office spaces and retail environments. The forced perspective walls are highlighted by colourful, glowing outlines. These expressionistic panels are mirrored by the skeletal, angular grid that hangs above.
We go from magazine office to coffee shop to film production office as the intellectual property of a shared trauma gets bought and sold. Decorative poster panels are swapped out to indicate each new setting. The bleak sameness of the static environment is conceptually potent and keenly felt.
Designers Chris Malkowski (lighting) and Christopher Stanton (sound) punctuate key moments of heightened tension with the eerie flicker and buzz of overhead fluorescent tubes.
There is also motivic resonance in how actors re-appear from scene to scene. Who portrays the same character and who inhabits a different one feels deliberate and purposeful, strengthening the self-aware echoes.
Though the play itself doesn’t always stick the landing, Sills’ production has an assured style and perfect pace. It is consistently funny and engaging throughout, with moments of surprising poignancy, and concludes on a sharp and resonant final image.