Dallas Theater Center‘s production masterful production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Pulitzer Prize nominated play Gloria is a thrill ride of emotion. The self-absorption and mercenary outlook of its characters collide explosively with shocking repercussions. Each consumed by their own ambition, these people cannot seem to see and connect with the humanity in each other. They appear as caricatures of themselves – the drunken slob, the prima donna, the office weirdo – offering the audience little to like about them. Brutal wit and snarky repartee invite self-conscious laughter, where one feels a little like a naughty child laughing at an inappropriate joke. Indeed, the whole play feels like a voyeuristic look into the ugliness of humanity, like a train wreck from which one cannot look away. And it is absolutely brilliant.
The office setting is cold and stark, flooded with harsh and unforgiving light from florescent fixtures. There is nowhere to hide, here. Before they even enter the set, these people’s characters are fully evident in the appearance of their workspace – old take-0ut containers and empty vitamin water bottles for the slob and Tiffany bags and sleek magazine organizers for the prima donna. Insignificant in this cutthroat world, only the intern is not on display; his workspace is a small cubby behind a milky partition.
The question is asked, what happens when ugliness reaches a boiling point? Can there be a change, or is it so pervasive that it cannot be eradicated? Are moments of tenderness and kindness merely fleeting or a smokescreen? What is our identity?
Five of the cast of six play multiple roles, underscoring the recognizable nature of the characters. The finest performance of the evening was given by Leah Spillman, in the roles of Gloria and Nan. She embodied each role with an intensity and believability that made me forget she was acting. Michael Federico as Lorin skillfully highlighted the frustration of those who are witness to and thwarted by these damaged souls. His portrayal of Lorin’s struggle to contain his frustration and compulsion to get the facts right lent a shred of humanity to the crew. Drew Wall (Dean) growled and snarled convincingly as as he crossed swords with his nemisis. Played by Satomi Blair, Kendra’s rapid-fire insults and unconscious needling of Drew brought a bit of black humor to the show, but her challenging long-winded diatribes occasionally felt scripted and recited. Grace Montie portrayed her characters capably, and Ryan Woods embraced his with alacrity.
I walked away from this play thinking about what kind of person I want to be, how I want to fit into the world and pondering the public’s ravenous appetite for the carnage of personal tragedy and emotional bloodsport. This is a play that will sit with me for a while.