Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Loneliness of the Long-Suffering Worker


Jared Corbin, Jeremy Kahn, Lauren English Photo: Kevin Berne

By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Eric Ting
The Strand Theater, 1127 Market, San Francisco

Until April 12, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

A workplace can be like a Skinnerian experiment where rats compete to win pellets or avoid shocks. This is especially true where communication is sparse and tension is high as workers carry out mundane, daily routines that read like stage directions for theater of the absurd.

A.C.T.’s production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Gloria,'' masterfully directed by Eric Ting, is what I would call a great American drama in that it balances on the increasingly familiar blade of loneliness, alienation, and violence. It opens with uplifting liturgical choral music filling the space as the stage reveals a drab, uninspired office scene of spiritless gray walls, cubicles decorated with what little individuality someone can bring to a job, narrow passageways, glaring fluorescent lights, and a frosted opaque glass window to separate the management from the workers. The beautiful music is filling the head of Miles the intern  (Jared Corbin) who removes his headset as he tends to the copy machine that churns out sheet after sheet of documents that will be collated but never read. The feeling is that of waste: of resources, time, energy, and space.

Miles dutifully carries out the lame tasks assigned by Dean (Jeremy Kahn) and Ani (Martha Brigham) who chat about the party Gloria, a coworker, gave the night before. It is clear that Gloria is  a pariah, a “painted bird” that is excluded from the flock, someone group solidarity insists you shun, like the “pig” in Lord of the Flies. Gloria apparently had put in a lot of effort for her party, hiring a caterer, inviting the whole office, only to have just four people show up, including Dean. Another coworker, self-absorbed busybody Kenra (Melanie Arii Mah) arrives late, probably because she was shopping. The conversation is banal but caustic as the three engage in rapid fire gossip about everyone, including the manager Nan who is unseen behind the frosted glass.

Martha Brigham, Jared Corbin, Melanie Arii Mah  Photo: Kevin Berne

A frumpy, serious, and angrily depressed woman appears; it is Gloria (Lauren English, about to implode) who has been a good worker with the company for years. Her face is a frozen mask of numbness, disdain, and bitter resignation as she fastens her gaze on the group, who burst into nervous laughter as soon as she leaves. The only other person outside the fray is Lorin (Matt Monaco) who works down the hall and appears only to plead silence from the jabbering jays. He is there to work, but his job, too, is menial, having been promoted to head fact checker, fact-checking the work of subordinate fact checkers.

Matt Monaco Photo: Eric Berne
The pressure of the toxic workplace is palpable, brimming with stale dreams, secret passions, guarded intentions, misery, and stress. How can anyone stand it?

Imagine a lab blown to smithereens by a failed experiment. This is the emotional equivalent of the end of Act I, the details of which I will not divulge except to say that subsequent trauma affects different people in different ways.

This story of workplace ostracism, personal connection, disconnection, greed, and selfishness is universal and painful. The second act follows the aftermath of decisions made by the surviving characters. Some turn trauma into opportunity; others are shattered and humbled. And yes, there is a chance of redemption. When the dust settles, what’s left is the simple decision to connect with each other and take a chance on kindness.

The set design by Lawrence Moten is fluid, compelling, and remarkable as it mirrors the flow of the story from gray office to Starbucks to upscale minimalism and finally to a peaceful space with a warm, chapel-like glow occupied by earnest and intense Lorin, the only character who listens and shows compassion throughout the play.

Gloria” raises questions of one’s own story: Who tells it? Who owns it? What is real, and what is appropriated? What does it mean to be a person? Branden Jacobs-Jenkins looks under the rock of mundane scenarios to reveal the dark beings living beneath. “Gloria '' is a cautionary tale, giving the viewer an opportunity to improve the human connection and transcend to redemption.

Gloria,” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Eric Ting, A.C.T. Strand Theater. Until April 12, 2020. Info:

Watch the trailer:

Martha Brigham*
Ani, Sasha, Callie

Jared Corbin**
Miles, Shawn, Rashaad

Lauren English*
Gloria, Nan

Jeremy Kahn*
Dean, Devin

Melanie Arii Mah*
Kendra, Jenna

Matt Monaco**

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States

*Member of the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2020, appearing in this production courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association


Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Directed by
Eric Ting

Scenic Designer
Lawrence E. Moten III

Costume Designer
Christine Crook

Lighting Designer
Wen-Ling Liao

Sound Designer
Madeleine Oldham

Props Design Associate
Jacquelyn Scott

Voice & Dialect Coach
Lisa Anne Porter

Movement Coach
Danyon Davis

Joy Meads

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