Monday, January 23, 2017

For Reasons Hard to Specify, I Didn't Find Goodman's 'Gloria' All That G-L-O-R-I-O-U-S -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

a recent play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
directed by Evan Cabnet
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru February 19

Singing--at least in my head--the famed "G-L-O-R-I-A" refrain of "Gloria" by Them (featuring Van Morrison), as well as two other rock songs sharing the same name (one by Laura Branigan, the other by U2), none of which have anything to do with the play, I took my seat Sunday afternoon with a good amount of anticipation.

Gloria, referenced as a dark comedy, is a 2015 play written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a young playwright who has earned considerable regard.

In its world premiere, off-Broadway production at New York's Vineyard Theater, Gloria earned rave reviews--such as this one from the New York Post--as well as prestigious award nominations, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Robert Falls, the legendary artistic director of the Goodman Theatre, "found Gloria to be among the smartest, most entertaining and provocative pieces I have seen in many years" and brought the play to Chicago with the original cast and director, Evan Cabnet.

Having now seen Gloria, I wish I could tell you I loved it.

But I can't.

And I can't even, in good conscience, tell you much of what it's about, or therefore do a decent job of specifying why I didn't greatly care for a play many others clearly have.

If you are planning to see the play--as perhaps, like me, a Goodman subscriber--knowing as little as possible going in would probably be best.

Initially set in the editorial offices of a magazine in modern day Manhattan, the two-act Gloria features six primary characters who work there, in either their 20s or 30s.

All of the actors handle their roles well, including Ryan Spahn (as Dean), Jennifer Kim (Kendra), Catherine Combs (Ani), Jeanine Serralles (Gloria), Michael Crane (Lorin) and Kyle Beltran, who I'd seen as Usnavi in the first national tour of In the Heights, as Miles.

As always, the Goodman features strong scenery, though based on photos it seems Takeshi Kata's New York set was re-created verbatim.

While I've never spent much time in a work environment quite like the one depicted, the dialogue among the colleagues about their social lives, co-workers, bosses, office gossip, a celebrity's death and a creeping sense of disillusionment eroding their ambition feels not only believable, but resonant as well.

So it isn't as though I can't see why Falls, New York critics and presumably other Goodman patrons were far more smitten--I'm curious to see what other Chicago reviewers have to say, though it may be a few days since I believe I technically saw a preview performance--and Jacobs-Jenkins' voice beguiled me enough to readily explore other works by him.

But without wishing to get any more detailed, I rarely found Gloria very compelling and ultimately thought it was rather callous and cold about its subject matter.

I realize that may well be part of the author's point, and I also know that without further details it's a bit unfair as criticism.

So while I can't personally recommend Gloria, I not only wouldn't dissuade anyone from attending--except those with certain experiences, which I'm sorry I can't spell out--I hope and imagine many may like it far more than I did.

If and when you see Gloria, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts and to further enunciate on why I found it disturbing--and really just wanted it to end long before it did.

To each their own; that's the beauty of art...and theater.

But clearly--while noting that music is prominent in what isn't a musical and features no lyrical references to the titular character--I wasn't singing on my way out of the theater.

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