|Photo by by Clare Hawley|
Out House Theatre Company and Seymour Centre present GLORIA, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 6-28th June.
GLORIA is a play by one of the rising 'stars' of playwriting in the United States: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. His writing has garnished many literature Nominations and Awards: WAR (2014), APPROPRIATE (2014), AN OCTOROON (2014), EVERYBODY (2017), GLORIA (2018).
GLORIA, is set in a magazine office, where a group of aspiring young writers are working in jobs that are unexciting, perhaps even deadening: Ani (Annabel Harte), Miles (Justin Amankwah), Dean (Rowan Witt), Kendra (Michelle Ny), Lorin (Reza Momenzada) and Gloria (Georgina Symes). They fill out their day at their desks with their menial tasks, laced, some might say, enhanced, by bored though incisive interactions that only the really bright and frustrated can observe and dish out with careless abandon. They have all been at these desks far too long but the hope of promotion, artistic recognition and opportunity keep them hanging in there, hardly making monetary compensation for their daily 'torture'. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins once worked as an editor/writer of The New Yorker magazine - although he resiles that this play is anything like that experience.
Gloria has been in that office far too long. A decade or so longer than the other, relatively, younger perks. Gloria is regarded as an oddity of survival by her work companions. Gloria decides to give a party at her home. All the office is invited. Only Dean attends. Gloria is not happy. Gloria snaps and tragedy ensues.
Mr Jacobs-Jenkins has had us bubbling along to a witty, caustic American sensibility of acid cruelty in a familiar space with familiar character types. They have edge and precision. Take this bunch back in time and they could become, if history was kinder, a contemporary Round Table grouping - "The Vicious Circle" - with Kendra, perhaps in-training for the Dorothy Parker role!
The interval is heralded with a shocking office event. It would be an awful spoiler, to tell you what it is, other than it is a coup de theatre - an astonishing coup de theatre. It takes one's breath away.
The second half is set 8 months later and in three new locations. Dean has left the office and after a personal break has written a book about what happened. Nan (Georgina Symes), who was chief editor at the magazine, has also written a book, with authority, about her experience in the office that Gloria afternoon. But which she witnessed only peripherally. The lengths that people might go to to achieve fame based about their actual life, or borrowed life experiences, are satirically and cynically, robustly examined.
The humour that the playwright gives us in this second act is still wasp-edged sharp and funny - it has a sting in its tail - but the context now is coloured, soured, by the penchant of what might be said to be the bad behaviour of the grasping modern human. What began as a modern New York comedy (a la Neil Simon or Woody Allen) is now a biting comment about the deterioration of our species and our corrupted ethical boundaries. This is crack-a-jack writing that will give you real pause. Ambition, real ambition, seems to have no boundaries. Ambition, when it is an addiction, can be lethal. This play definitely holds a mirror up to the contemporary audience - it is an intelligent but bitter image to reflect on.
"Magazines all too frequently lead to books and should be regarded by the prudent as the heavy petting of literature." - Fran Lebowitz.
"The lowest form of popular culture - lack of information, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people's lives - has overrun real journalism" - Carl Bernstein.
"Facts tell. But stories sell" - unknown.
Directed, by Alex Berlage, this group of actors handle their roles (some have multiple responsibilities) with an adept precision, creating characters that could, recognisably have walked off the set of SEINFELD. The writing certainly is a gift for any actor with nous. Mr Witt is clever in the detailing of his man (men) and all of the company are impressive and respectful, with varying degrees of skill, of the writer's framework - how lucky are they to have such a writer.
Sets and Costume are from Jeremy Allen and serve the play's environments with economy and restraint. The Sound Design and Composition are by Ben Pierpoint and have his usual accurate eye and ear serving the writing and production without bombast. Mr Berlage with his Direction and Lighting gifts has employed an unusual restraint of 'dazzle' effects, and trusts that the writer will serve him well. That the writer is God - serve that God well and all will be well. Of course, the better the writer, the more sure you can be that you need not do much else, than reveal the text with clarity and insight to his appreciative intent. Just good taste and trusting restraint need be employed. This is the best writer, undoubtedly, that Mr Berlage has engaged with, in his outings in Sydney.
AN OCTOROON, was presented up in Queensland earlier this year and I wonder what they made of it. I hope someone will take up the challenge. Sydney could do with more of the calibre of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' mind and skill. I am sorry if you missed GLORIA - it did have an extended season. And as I've written before thank god for the enterprise of Outhouse Theatre Company (THE FLICK, THE ALIENS) - it's a godsend to have a company that reads plays and offers them to us to experience, for if we depended on the diet that The Sydney Theatre Company offers us we would be so much poorer and ignorant of the world of great contemporary playwriting.