Gloria

gloria
Ryan Spahn (Dean), Jennifer Kim (Kendra), and Catherine Combs (Ani) in ‘Gloria’

During the whip-smart first half of “Gloria,” Lorin (Michael Crane), a 37-year-old Head Fact Checker at a wheezing New York-based magazine, laments his state of living. Bored with a time consuming, dead-end job, surrounded by malcontents and suspicious that this may be all there is, Lorin opines that death must be not only sweet relief, but one’s first (and presumably only) opportunity to be noticed.

Such bitterness and cynicism permeates “Gloria,” a misanthropic look at two 21st Century workplace threats: technological displacement and disgruntled colleagues. A 2016 Pulitzer Prize-finalist from MacArthur Foundation Fellow Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the work strikes an engrossing balance between shock and familiarity that will necessarily follow audience members out of the Albert Theatre.

Directed by Evan Cabnet, who also helmed Goodman’s funny, disquieting and resonant 2013 production, “Teddy Ferrara,” this iteration of “Gloria” benefits from the original cast of the off-Broadway mounting. The syncopated performers know the material — and each other — which permits the script’s caustic humor to spew forth organically. Because absurdity and the fragility of life can be damned funny.

Press materials accessibly describe the plot as a meditation on Millennial office politics. “A group of ambitious twenty-somethings at one of New York’s most esteemed cultural magazines are pursuing it all — style status and success. When a seemingly normal day at the office turns out to be anything but, these aspiring journalists recognize an opportunity to seize a career-defining moment.”

I suppose that sketch is handy, but Jacob-Jenkins’ material is so much richer than convenient tropes. Suppose, as the opportunistic Kendra (a glorious Jennifer Kim) offers, that the slow destruction of print media and journalism can be blamed on factors beyond the monolithic growth and presence of the Internet. What if New York City’s famous gentrification and unaffordability is rooted in more than real estate trends and urban scarcity?

“Gloria” asks us to consider the possibility that the Yuppies and Baby Boomers who indulged, slacked and ennuied their way through the Me Decade and the Dot Com Boom, ruined socioeconomic and media career opportunity for everyone born after 1985. More than just provocative story material, the controversial idea is supported by a growing body of academic research pointing fingers in the direction of the post-World War II generation. A quick Google search yields article titles such as “Baby Boomers are Ruining the Entire World” and “Baby Boomers Ruined America: Why Blaming Millennials is Misguided.”

If the children of the Greatest Generation gobbled upward mobility and meritocracy like so many swarming corporate locusts, what’s left for today’s workers? Squeezed by low wages and high costs of living, teased by an American Dream displaced by continuous insecurity, mental health and self-esteem are increasingly difficult to balance. And the script seems to suggest that the excessively hungry, inhuman ambition displayed by some of the leads is a natural result. The new “Greed is good” as it were in a culture where there no longer seem to be any road maps.

“Gloria” is explosive, uncomfortable, hilarious and brilliant. I’ve already singled out Jennifer Kim, who does some great work as the unabashedly arch and calculating Kendra. Kendra’s frenemy Dean, inhabited by Ryan Spahn, is a portrait of sycophantic ingratiation that cannot withstand the intrusion of human desperation. And Janine Serralles brings surprising emotional heft to the role of Nan, a Generation X editor caught between culpability and a need for reinvention.

I have one minor quibble with “Gloria.” The use of operatic intros, outros and imagery feels a bit heavy handed. The material is tragic enough without the ham-fisted arias that seem otherwise irrelevant to the plot and character arcs. But this is easily forgiven by the truly original nature of the rest of the work.

As my companion and I finished a pre-show dinner, our server commented that she’d heard “mixed reviews” of the production. I’ve no doubt. This is a tough piece, with jarring, often discordant emotional demands. It may prove too much for the casual theater goer looking for mindless entertainment. Those who enjoy being provoked however, should clear space on their winter theater calendars.

“Gloria” runs through February 19 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-443-3800 or visit the Goodman Theatre website.

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Box Office Hit “Ted” Holds a Mirror Up to Generation Y (July 3, 2012)

ted

 

 

I am a nearly 34 year-old woman with the finely developed humor sensibilities of a 13 year-old boy. Give me your bodily function jokes, your politically incorrect puns and a dash of gallows guffaw and I am a happy camper. Throughout the years I have counted such animated television programs as Beavis and Butthead, South Park, the Family Guy and the Boondocks among my many favorites. But it must be pointed out, I come for the sight gags and stay for the often prescient social and political commentary that these programs offer the already warped mind.

So when I first learned a of a new film directed, co-written and produced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, I was intrigued. When I intimated that said film involved a 35 year-old man (played by the always delicious Mark Wahlberg) and the complex adult relationship between he and his childhood teddy bear, my interest grew. Then I heard that the titular bear, Ted, was a foul-mouthed, over-sexed, drug abusing stuffed animal come to life and I was counting the minutes until the film’s release.

The movie did not disappoint in its promise to offer something new yet familiar: a stream of poop and fart jokes, Wahlberg’s handsome face and Mila Kunis’ winsome screen charm. But the film offered something else too for those willing to look past the veneer of R-rated hilarity. Part of the movie’s message served to underscore a point I have been arguing off and on for several years, a pitfall to which I know I am not immune: the members of Generation Y are having an awfully tough time growing up.

To simplify matters, let’s work with Wikipedia’s definition of Gen Y, shall we? “Generation Y, also known as Generation We…Generation Next, the Net Generation, the Echo Boomers are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates for when Generation Y starts and ends, and commentators usually use birth dates ranging somewhere from the later-1970s or early 1980s to the mid 2000s.”

If we accept this explication of terms, this puts yours truly right smack at the beginning of this demographic. It is also worth noting that the bulk of Gen Y’s members are the progeny of late-era Baby Boomers, a state of affairs which cannot fail to offer a relationship between the sense of entitlement that myself and my fellow Gen Yers often display. We were raised by our credit-relying helicopter parents (generalizing) to believe we had certain inalienable rights: the right to be special, the right to be happy, the right to warrant media attention and most especially the right to abdicate from situations that are not to our liking. Toughing it out stoically doesn’t appear to be part of our vocabulary.

And so it is in Ted. The main character, Johnny, is introduced to audiences as a lonely little boy in the 1980s. Growing up in Boston as the only child of doting parents, his is a case of wish-fulfillment gone awry. He and his parents spend so much time pretending that the teddy bear is the weird kid’s real pal that when the fantasy becomes reality, there’s no eventual lesson about Johnny trying to improve his relationships with humans – just relief that they don’t have to worry about him talking to himself anymore.

Cut to the present-day where Johnny is drinking and pulling bongs on the couch with a now 27 year-old Ted on a daily basis. The man-child is underemployed by a rental car agency while his more stable girlfriend (Kunis) holds down an adult gig and pays most of the rent on their gorgeous brownstone (presumably – I know what it costs to live in Boston).

That the movie has several different happy endings is more than just onscreen fiction. I have plenty of contemporaries who just never emerge from this pattern of underachieving, and they certainly don’t do so with six pack abs. Ted is more than a comic film. It’s a cautionary tale with a message that could be easy to miss underneath the shock humor. 35 year-olds, by and large, are still babies.

I’m going to go do a tequila shot, cuddle my Cabbage Patch Doll and think more about it.