Gloria

So, it's kind of difficult to talk about fight club without talking about fight club, but I'll try. For all but the last two minutes of Gloria's first act, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's new play seems like a typical, dare I say trite, workplace comedy. Reminiscent of Leslye Hedland's Assistance, we find three assistants (Ryan Spahn, Catherine Combs and Jennifer Kim) and one intern (Kyle Beltran, recently seen in The Fortress of Solitude) at their cubes. They complain about their work (they are magazine editors' assistants), they complain about each other, they bond over the loss of a (semi) beloved pop star. A colleague from the fact-checking department (a great Michael Crane) periodically stops by to ask the assistants to keep it down. And every now and then the assistants talk about or are briefly visited by the titular Gloria (Jeanine Serralles), a woman who works in copy and who threw a housewarming party the night before—a party that no one but Dean (Spahn) attended.

Then there's a dramatic twist. Guns are involved. This was jarring for several reasons, not the least of which is that it was a potent reminder that violence on stage is quite different from violence on film. I've watched plenty of violent films over the years, flicks with lots of shoot-em-up scenes and bloody gun play. Watching that on celluloid, you feel entirely removed from the action. Watching something like that I stage, I found myself squeamish; I literally closed my eyes while anticipating a gun shot. I wouldn't have thought I'd be this way. Though I'm not fully desensitized to violence, I thought I had a pretty strong stomach. But watching a shooting play out ten feet in front of you is unsettling, to say the least.

Of course, there's more to Gloria than that. Playwright Jacobs-Jenkins entreats us to think about the violence of our daily language, borne out in the ways the co-workers talk to and about one another, and in the way those traumatized by the shooting talk about the incident. There are fights about whose story it is, who can talk about what happened and who cannot. In a break from the typical post-traumatic coverage, Gloria checks in on the survivors several months and years after the shooting. In doing so, Jacobs-Jenkins forces us to think not about the heinous crime and its perpetrator but rather the people left in its wake.

There is particular poignancy in seeing Gloria, directed by Evan Cabnet, just days after the horrific terrorist attack in Charleston, SC. But more horrific is that what happened in Charleston and what happens in Gloria are not isolated, one-off incidents. They happen all too often. And all too often, we remember the wrong people. We get "tragedy fatigue," and quickly move on to the next distraction. We don't think about the survivors of such tragedies, at least not until Hollywood tries to cash in on our rubbernecking inclinations. Theatre is meant to express something of the moment and, at its best, help us process what's happening. Gloria makes the argument for us to avoid canonizing criminals and, rather than fetishizing and monetizing victims and survivors, we should support them as they attempt to continue their lives.

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