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Workplace fun and games take a provocative turn in Gloucester's 'Gloria'

Teresa Langford, Michael Wood, Ann Dang and Jordan Pearson in "Gloria" at Gloucester Stage Company. (Courtesy Shawn Henry)
Teresa Langford, Michael Wood, Ann Dang and Jordan Pearson in "Gloria" at Gloucester Stage Company. (Courtesy Shawn Henry)

Sometimes, the best stories are multi-faceted, cerebral and complicated. Initially, "Gloria" at Gloucester Stage Company (through June 26) doesn’t feel like any of those things. In the first few minutes the narrative feels like a well-acted workplace comedy in which employees seething with discontent engage in top-notch bickering. There’s Kendra, a fashionista who shops and makes multiple Starbucks runs during the day and aims to do nothing at work; Gloria, who everyone thinks is weird; Dean, who started as an intern and thinks he’s further along in his career than he is; and Ani, a middle-of-the-roader who doesn’t think of herself as ambitious. But just when the performers’ antics become particularly uproarious, the drones in this overly toxic work environment (toxicity they help feed, really) find their world upended when faced with collective trauma.

This play marks the return of Gloucester Stage to its indoor space at Rocky Neck after a critically acclaimed season outdoors in Rockport. Though “Gloria” is the first production under acting artistic director Paula Plum, they’re picking up with the same provocative programming that marked their productions last year.

Michael Wood’s Dean (Gold Dust Orphans’ “Whizzin’”) is extremely funny as Kendra’s (Ann Dang) nemesis. They’re repulsed by one another and the absurdity of their rage-filled competitiveness certainly entertains. But Wood shows great range later in the production when grappling with his mortality and fragility. He embodies this weight put upon him with great sensitivity, physically shaking with fear when tragedy comes. And Dang’s ever-snarky, callous Kendra can expertly slice and dice someone’s confidence within a few minutes, especially Dean’s. Her dogged ambition (and that of others too) is particularly obnoxious. And the title character, Gloria, is mostly the subject of scorn and is often ignored by her co-workers until she no longer can be.

Michael Wood and Ann Dang in
Michael Wood and Ann Dang in "Gloria" at Gloucester Stage Company. (Courtesy Shawn Henry)

At its core, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Gloria,” with excellent direction by Bryn Boice, highlights the coarseness of opportunistic characters scratching and clawing their way to a book deal or TV deal instead of examining and unpacking their lives’ pivotal moments. Dang’s Kendra, who strikes fear in the heart of her boss Eleanor and “ice queen” editor Nan’s (Esme Allen who also doubles as Gloria) willingness to profit from pain, feel like bared teeth readying for prey. Dean also seeks to share his story, but his journey seems more cathartic and scattered than others’ exacting voyages.

Boice’s touch is unmistakable since she’s no stranger to intricate, truth-filled storytelling. She does a beautiful job of allowing the characters to unveil who they really are. We get a chance to laugh with and at them and perhaps dislike them in a brief window of time. There’s a tender moment when Kendra and Ani, clad in a Selena T-shirt, portrayed by the very talented Teresa Langford, join in song when a favorite performer of theirs dies, as well as a scene in which an overworked fact-checker, Lorin (Michael Broadhurst), has a meltdown, an omen of things to come.  The Elliot Norton Award-winning Boice often finds herself at the helm of deeply human stories. She artfully directed “The Sound Inside” about a lonely professor’s connection to a student at SpeakEasy Stage Company last year.

The prolific Jacob-Jenkins, a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, has written several highly-regarded plays, but “Gloria” and “Everybody,” a modern adaptation of the 15th-century morality play “Everyman,” were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 and 2018. Jacob-Jenkins’ ambitious, full work often contains much more than it seems at first blush.

Ann Dang, Teresa Langford and Michael Broadhurst in
Ann Dang, Teresa Langford and Michael Broadhurst in "Gloria" at Gloucester Stage Company. (Courtesy Shawn Henry)

But the conflict in “Gloria” is a real one, especially for those who work or have worked at publishing companies or who make a living from storytelling. It’s easy to get angry with the characters for vying for the spotlight after enduring a life-changing event. But isn’t tragedy, like joy, worthy of its own spotlight on stage, in a film, or in the pages of a book?  Maybe the retelling can serve as a warning or push others to persevere after tragedy. And, if there’s a group that experiences something together, who gets to shape the narrative? When does telling one’s truth become soul-suckingly capitalistic? These questions are at the heart of Jacobs-Jenkins’ well-written dramedy and pushed this viewer at least to continue gnawing on them long after the show’s end.


 "Gloria" runs through June 26 at Gloucester Stage Company.

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Jacquinn Sinclair Performing Arts Writer
Jacquinn Sinclair is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in Performer Magazine, The Philadelphia Tribune and Exhale Magazine.

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