OGDEN — Gloria, a play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, focuses on the experiences of people who work at a desk job but aspire to something greater or at least different. The story follows people who experience an act of violence in the workplace and how they process and cope with that experience. It is a poignant look at violence, trauma, work, burnout, and workplace toxicity.
Directed by one of Good Company’s founders, Alicia Washington, this production is a daring portrayal of events that are becoming all too commonplace in our society. There is a warning of strong language and one scene of violence, so be aware when attending. The show is quite intense and emotional, and it left me feeling very reflective and somewhat pensive.
Set design, by Allen Smith, was a simple but interesting view of an office, with cubicles, desks and enough of a workplace feel that I started to feel stressed about the things I needed to do the next day. Lighting and sound by Kelly Wideman and Lydia Oliverson added to that office feel, and when some of the characters such as Jesse Nepivoda as Lorin would get frustrated at the office noise, I found myself grateful, because I was also getting frustrated with the noise level. That phenomena is one of the most wonderful benefits of the intimate setting of the Good Company Theatre location: that the audience is right on level with the production and can truly feel a part of the experience. With this play, when the normal workday took an unexpected and upsetting turn, that feeling of being in the center of the action was quite intense and somewhat difficult to manage emotionally. Washington as director did a great job helping these actors play a realistic situation that is sadly all to frequent in our world today.
As the show starts out, we are privy to the mundane gossip of the office, delivered best by Lara Vo as office gossip Kendra. Kendra is that coworker you love to hate, who comes in late, spends all her time talking, and leaves to get coffee many times a day. Vo plays the part so well that she reminds me of many a difficult person I have met in the workplace. Then there is the person who tries to be nice to everyone and get her work done: Ani, played by Cassidy Wixon. Wixon works well with the material to reflect the balance that people have to keep in the workplace. As the show goes on in the second act, Wixon and others portray a few other people, and I want to point out how impressed I was with Wixon’s ability to have a new accent and persona. Building an entirely new character and helping the audience to feel for that character is not a simple task, but Wixon is flawless in her execution.
The character of Dean, played by Brandon Garside, is a character who is trying hard to reach his own dreams and not be stuck behind a desk the rest of his life. Garside is interesting to watch, and portrays a great amount of stress within the workplace that left me feeling like I was eavesdropping on coworkers rather than watching a production. However, the feel of the whole show changes when the character of Gloria, played by Sahna Foley, who is discussed as the office weirdo, comes in and changes everyone’s lives in a terrifying way. Foley handles this particular scene well, while the emotions and intensity of the environment are extremely high. In the second act, Foley portrays Nan, a high-ranking editor only minimally involved in the lives of the other staff, but with her own unique view of the situation. Again, Foley shows great acting prowess in building a new character, especially after the high emotion surrounding her first character. Avery Franklin has a similar situation as Miles the intern in the first act, and two other characters within the second act.
Everything about this production is well done, but this show is difficult to watch. One of the things still haunting me is a scene at the end where Nepivoda as Lorin attempts to connect with a coworker, showing: that we spend much of our lives in places where we do not connect with other people; how we often think so much about our role in a story that we forget that there are so many other people within a story; and how we can look at a person and assume they are “normal” and do “normal” things without really understanding just who they are, what they need, and if we are neglecting them. I say the production is hard to watch because it is hard to be reminded of just how much more I could be doing to be a better person. Theater should not always be just about entertainment. Good theater explores how we can be better people, and the Good Company has produced some good theater with this production of Gloria.