Saturday, June 13, 2015

Gloria ****

No one can accuse Obie winner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (Appropriate, An Octoroon) of repeating himself. Each of his three plays that I have seen creates its own world completely unlike that of the other two. His latest play, now at Vineyard Theatre, draws upon his experience working at the New Yorker for a few years. For the first 45 minutes, the play seems to be a witty workplace satire about assistants at a prestigious magazine. Then the mood abruptly shifts, to put it mildly. To say more would spoil your experience. The remainder of the play depicts the effects of a life-changing event on some of the people who experienced it and raises this question: when something newsworthy happens, who “owns” the story? The playwright also paints an unflattering picture of today's media scene in which stories become mere fodder for the ravenous film/television/social media/publishing beast. In Act One we meet three editorial assistants — Dean (Ryan Spahn), Ani (Catherine Combs) and Kendra (Jennifer Kim); Miles (Kyle Beltran, who made such a strong impression in Fortress of Solitude), a college intern; Lorin (Michael Crane), a somewhat older fact checker; and the title character (Jeanine Serralles, recently in Verite), a socially awkward longtime employee from another department. Each character is vividly sketched and the dialogue rings true. The first act is literally a tough act to follow. In the second act, all the actors except Crane play one or more new characters. The excellent cast is adept at changing roles. One of the play’s strengths is that, at any given moment, I had no idea where it was heading. The scenic design by Takeshi Kata captures the sterility of the modern cubicled office. The costumes by Ilona Somogyi are unobtrusively apt. Evan Cabnet’s direction is rock solid. In case there was any doubt, Jacobs-Jenkins demonstrates that he belongs in the first rank of contemporary American iplaywrights. Running time: 2 hours including intermission.

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