For anyone who has ever experienced office life, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play Gloria, presented by Hatch Arts Collective, is both funny and relatable. There’s a host of recognizable characters, including the office ice queen, the outcast, the gossipmonger, the intern, the tech-savvy youth, the washed up, and the stuck up.

No detail of modern office life is left unturned. Set designer Katy Fetrow even includes the unavoidably pretentious yoga ball subbing as an office chair. Fetrow’s talents go beyond choice details. Her modular set design allows for flawlessly smooth transitions between scenes that leave you dazzled by how easily act one’s open floorplan office transforms into a Starbucks for act two. Director Adil Mansoor’s blocking of the actors pairs harmoniously with the design flow. More broadly, the design is a comment on era-specific design commonalities with the breezy open floorplan currently in vogue. This design aesthetic fosters a perennial appearance of openness with nothing to hide.

However, as Gloria shows us, openness can distract as very little work is accomplished in this space. It can also cut. Conversations that feel private are in fact overheard by others. Head fact-checker Lorin (Ricardo Vila-Roger) reminds us the public is not private as he repeatedly comes to shush the group. Lorin is intensely stressed, and Vila-Roger does him justice in his outbursts where he seems ready to snap. He questions the meaning of his work that leaves him burnt out, yet feels highly irrelevant, a paradox of the modern workplace where employees often feel always on, making work ever-present.

Gloria is cleverly staged at Nova Place, a mixed-use structure with 1.5 million square feet of offices and residential units. The domestic and the professional literally share these walls. Gloria takes place in the world of publishing, but as with any workplace, the personal and the professional inevitably blend. We quickly learn bits and details about our coworkers’ personal lives, just as we do in Gloria.

The publishing industry comes across as a dated dinosaur. The disheveled Dean (Max Pavel) rolls in at 10:48 am, and he’s an almost anemic white, nursing a hangover from a co-worker’s housewarming the night before. Pavel holds his blistering head, and you share a sympathetic cringe. His colleagues express horror that Dean even attended the party as it was hosted by resident office freak, Gloria. Dean admits he overdrank and overstayed because he felt bad for Gloria and how few people were there.

Each actor plays multiple roles, but the most vocally resounding in act one is Kendra Park (Sami Ma). Ma is so rapid-fire it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Director Adil Mansoor could have strategically slowed her at moments to give her dialogue more impact as she’s like trying to discern the Tasmanian Devil. Kendra is a fashionable, wealthy Asian-American assistant who casually rolls in 10 minutes after the belated Dean, arms full of shopping bags. Costume designer Alexis Carrie reinforces character through thoughtful costuming. While the drunken, nondescript Dean is in rumpled khakis, Kendra is perfectly polished with high-waisted forest green paper bag pants paired with a diaphanous white blouse and statement necklace.

The problem with the number of types Jacobs-Jenkins crams into the play is the characters run the risk of becoming one-dimensional stereotypes that teeter on the edge of caricature. Mansoor does shine with his noticeably diverse casting that’s a wonderfully accurate reflection of modern office life,  a welcome progression from the Mad Men world of white males to a genuinely inclusive workforce.

Each actor’s energy vividly resounds from the second they’re on stage. Pavel nurses his hangover with one ear ever towards the office door of his unseen boss, Nan Miller (Erika Cuenca), ready to react. Without giving away the climactic close to act one, it’s both shocking and visually stunning as red paper rapidly unfurls.

In act two, Jacobs-Jenkins struggles to find a smooth cadence post-climax. There are two distinct scene changes and the story evolution fractures. Mansoor missed an opportunity to create more clarity at the play’s ending when it wasn’t clear if the play was over. It stopped as opposed to concluding, as evidenced by the audience’s collective hesitation on clapping.

The publishing company is an appropriate setting to the extent the play’s most pressing questions become about the ownership of stories. Memory is inherently slippery, and we construct our truths after the fact, creating order out of chaos. Tellingly, the person who ends up selling that story most authoritatively is the person with the most power, suggesting a depressingly fixed nature to power structures.

Gloria is vividly memorable. It’s current and fresh without lapsing into cliché. One can easily look forward and envision it as a work that will be timeless while still telling both a troubled and relevant story of today’s world.

The Hatch Arts Collective’s production of Gloria continues through August 5th at Nova Place on the Northside. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit Hatch Arts online.

Categories: Archived Reviews

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