"Gloria" Review- The Goodman Theatre's Startling Turn-about Fair Play

The Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, is currently presenting MacArthur Foundation Fellow Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play “Gloria” through February 19. Tightly directed by Evan Cabinet and starring Kyle Beltran, Catherine Combs, Michael Crane, Jennifer Kim, Jeanine Serralles and Ryan Spahn, the piece contains a major plot twist which took the audience by surprise- to say the least- and will not be revealed herein.

Jennifer Kim, Catherine Combs and Kyle Beltran

 A finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in drama, this work was described as “A play of wit and irony that deftly transports the audience from satire to thriller and back again”. In performance, however, it is not always so clear what trajectory- or what planet- the performers are upon. Indeed, it’s not always easy to tell what timeframe in reading/Googling history is being reflected- is it right now or 20 years ago? It’s a twilight world of addiction to ambition and a reflection on morals and values in the workplace- and a graphic exposition of what happens when meaning and empathy is removed from everyday experience.

Jeannine Serrales

 The play is definitely built around a viscerally disturbing and endemically U.S.-style tragedy, but before it occurs, a deep morass of bitter tirade is mined. It’s a commentary on the world of media and the creation of reading material and fame in our culture. The important characters all work at a magazine, and they are all dispirited. The aging editors remain out of sight in their offices, and the millennial assistants in their cubicles whine about their jobs in the foreground. In-between, the disenfranchised 30ish staff wander in and out complaining as they work on disturbing nebulous projects.

Ryan Spahn, Jennifer Kim and Catherine Combs

 None of the characters is sympathetic, but the worst is Kendra, perfectly rendered in her incessantly annoying carping and defiant body language by Jennifer Kim, who gushes platitudes in post valspeak utterances.  In fact, it took this reviewer all week to realize that the airhead dialogue was intentionally banal – it is unnervingly reminiscent of tabloid headlines. The entire performance is a combination sit-com/reality show; it shamelessly reveals itself in every remark. Kudos to Kyle Beltran, who portrayed Miles with unnervingly mild banality, and to Jeanine Serralles as the shell-shocked Gloria. All of the cast were spot-on true to type-true to hype?!

Michael Crane

 The pace is rapid-fire and keeps your interest all the way through, even as you search for a hero- who doesn’t emerge- or a way to admire somebody or something-you won’t find it, other than in the ferocity of the script itself. The play is very funny in parts, which is a much-needed relief. The show is well-acted, well-staged, as you’d expect from the Goodman, and will keep you thinking. It’s disturbing and recommended.

Jennifer Kim and Catherine Combs

 For information and tickets to “Gloria” and all the great plays at The Goodman Theatre, go to the Goodman theatre website

All photos by Liz Lauren


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