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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When Did Millennials Stop Taking the Constitution Test?

From time to time, I am pleased to feature a guest post from a talented up and coming writer. This week I’m thrilled to present the work of Noreen Hernandez, a gifted student in a 300- level English course I’m teaching at Northeastern Illinois University this term. I think you’ll agree we want to hear a lot more from Noreen…..

Consitution

One Tuesday morning, a little more than a week ago, I was drinking my coffee and decided my digestion couldn’t handle reading about another schoolyard brawl between Rahm and Rauner. So I opened the Red Eye and started to flip directly to the Celebrity News for a little mental relaxation. Instead of checking out the reaction to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl outfit, my eyes were drawn to this headline:

I’ve Never Voted: Here’s Why,

Oh ha ha blah…I expected a sad column trying too hard to replicate the humorous genius of The Daily Show.  However, instead of satire, I read a self-serious list of reasons why 24-year-old Chicago Tribune reporter Rianne Cole has NEVER voted, or registered to vote-ever. She offered the usual pro forma list of excuses: too much hassle to register and nobody else votes. I sadly have to agree with Cole and admit, with voter turnout at 40% for the last mayoral election, she is correct in acknowledging voter apathy.

But the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners does understand the “hassle” of filling out forms, so they made it possible to register to vote online. I wondered if Cole knew she could procrastinate right up until Election Day and register at her polling place. That’s right-it’s possible to register and vote on the same day! As I continued reading the article, I became aware of a certain futility in these attempts to “get out the vote.”  Because her reason for not voting is more insidious than mere laziness.

Cole believes it is not her “civic duty” to vote.

I sighed…deep breaths…I tried solving the crossword puzzle to relax. But I couldn’t overlook the implications of Cole’s total civic apathy. The next Presidential election is historic because for the first time we, (not including Cole of course) will elect either a woman, a genuine activist, or a pouting bully. How could she sit this one out? It doesn’t matter what her politics are. If the thought that TRUMP COULD BE OUR NEXT PRESIDENT doesn’t get her running to the polls to stop this madness, what will?  At this point I was wishing for an asteroid to enter our Earth’s atmosphere and just end it all quickly.

Which led me to another maddening statement in Cole’s article:

“So here I sit, going about my post-graduate life and still not registered to vote. I have plenty of time, but maybe like in my work life, I’ll do it on a deadline.”

Really Rianne? I hardly know where to begin. Do you understand why you enjoy a modern post-graduate work life with the freedom to make ignorant choices? While you think of an answer, look up Lucy Burns (1879-1966). She fought for the same right to vote that so disinterests you. She was arrested, went on a hunger strike, and tortured when authorities shoved a tube down her throat to force feed her-all this, so you can choose to take that struggle for granted.

Once Lucy’s battle was over, the next generation of women leveraged their votes to fight for Equal Rights-the ones that offer you a 21st Century opportunity to get an education and build a career. These women looked into the future, saw your potential, and battled for you. How do you repay them? By abdicating the responsibility you owe to our foremothers, yourself, and our children.

The responsibility to remember this history and show up at the ballot box in indeed your “civic duty,” and allow me to help you remember the definition from your 7th grade Constitution Test. Civic Duty is “the social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force.” Like it or not Rianne, you are bound to a social force comprised of militant suffragettes and feminists of the Women’s Rights movement. Since this army of women fought, suffered, and died to provide you with the freedom of a comfortable post-graduate life, they have a right to demand your recognition.

Honor them by fulfilling your civic duty. Vote on November 8, 2016.

Noreen Hernandez has been a financial services professional for 10 years. A lifetime student with a passion for keeping her skills sharp, Noreen recently returned to university life, pursuing a degree in English Literature. She uses the power of the pen to synthesize and articulate her liberal, Catholic, and feminist viewpoints. Noreen likes a challenge. Follow her on Twitter: @Noreen_Hern