Gloria, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ dark comedy about the hyper-competitive atmosphere among the millennial employees at a major publication, wraps up its run at The Goodman Theatre this weekend. It was widely praised in its original staging at the Vineyard Theatre in New York, but reaction from Chicago-based theatre critics has been mixed. Having seen the play last weekend, I can understand why there are conflicting opinions of it.
The cast members (imported from Vineyard) do well with the sharp and true-to-life dialogue Jacobs-Jenkins has provided, resulting in a lot of funny conversations. Director Evan Cabnet maintains a steady pace to keep the audience engaged, and creates the disturbing climax of Act One with accelerated tension and well-executed (pun intended) violence. Still, the impact of that scene will likely be less powerful for anyone who has read the aforementioned reviews or even seen the Gloria newspaper ads.
We sense early on that Gloria, who is not a major character, will justify having the play named for her by carrying out some sort of mass attack. The only question is who her victims will be. Jacobs-Jenkins continues to mine dark humor throughout the second half by exploring how the survivors scheme to cash in on their fellow workers’ misfortune. But the final scene misfires by bringing back Lorin, a previously minor character who could have been one of Gloria’s multiple fatalities for all the audience knew, to provide a moral center. The main characters are all evil, deranged, or deceased.
Showing up as a temp at a Los Angeles-based film company two years later, Lorin is outraged to discover that Nan, an editor at his former company, is on the verge of signing a major deal for her account of the mass murder. He offers extensive and previously unavailable information to discredit her, including things that don’t make much sense. Lorin claims that the only action upper management at his former company took after being informed that an employee was seen loading a gun was to send an e-mail to managers warning them to lock themselves in their bullet-proof offices.
The concept of abandoning the rank and file to a serial killer definitely qualifies as dark humor, but would any company really send an easily traceable message that could result in millions of dollars in lawsuits? And how many nongovernment offices even have bulletproof windows for their managers? Plus, by the time Nan’s script could be made into a movie, at least three years would have passed since the incident. There’s a comment earlier in the second act that people will forget Gloria’s killing spree as soon as the next massacre takes place in America. There’s a chilling truth in that observation, but it also undermines one of the play’s main themes.