GLORIA Is Haunting and Exposing and Darkly Funny

GLORIA Is Haunting and Exposing and Darkly Funny

Jennifer Kim (Kendra), Catherine Combs (Ani), and Kyle Beltran (Miles) in GLORIA by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Evan Cabnet at Goodman Theatre.

Review: GLORIA at Goodman Theater

By Erin Shea Brady

Disclaimer: You will see yourself in Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ play, and it will disturb the hell out of you.

This is true, regardless of age. Though the play opens with a somewhat stereotypical depiction of millennial culture, we (the twenty-somethings) are not the only generation targeted in GLORIA.

Millennials are ambitious. We want to be our own bosses, run our own businesses, and make the “30 under 30” lists. It isn’t wrong to be ambitious. It isn’t wrong to want big things. Ambition is not “special snowflake” syndrome — and it’s not just for us young’uns. Without ambition, crucial stories wouldn’t get told and the standards we hold ourselves to would fall.

Too often, though, we forget to account for the way in which our culture perpetuates ambition in an unhealthy way. There’s a way in which social media can make us complacent. We are constantly subjected to the curated profiles and crowning achievements of our peers. It has changed the way we communicate. It has changed the way we measure ourselves. We are competitive. We don’t know how to be bored, which has resulted in a culture where a two-year stint at a job is too long. Monotony is harder to live with. I will admit, I’m writing this review from the computer at my day job, and I feel my own ambition weighing on me.

We all get caught up in the distraction. We become so immersed in our own goals that we lose sight of what is going on around us. Our laser-focus becomes a detriment to the real relationships that exist around us.

Jacob Jenkins’ GLORIA talks about ambition, expectation, and identity. If our neutral is to put ourselves in the future (the perfect job, the perfect life, dreaming of what could or should be), who do we become when tragedy puts us unbearably in the present, stripping us of all vices and means of escape? How do we come to terms with what we have ignored, in service of ambition and drive? How do we stay present? How do we find peace? And is it ethical to pursue an opportunity born of grief?

This play operates on a level that is so complex, addressing so many aspects of the human experience, but with striking clarity and a strong perspective. It is not easy to watch, and it bears mentioning that it may not be suitable for more faint-hearted audience members. Some of the visuals are so powerful, and so well done, I couldn’t get them out of my head.

GLORIA is haunting and exposing and darkly funny. It will make you uncomfortable. It will make you think. It will make you hold your breath and reflect on your life and look more closely at the people around you. The performances are uniformly powerful. The design is exceptional. I highly recommend this piece, and urge that you prepare yourselves for an intensely emotional experience.

GLORIA plays through February 19. 

About author

Erin Shea Brady

Erin Shea Brady is a contributing writer and critic at PerformInk and Newcity Stage. Directing credits include: Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.) and Cabaret, Annapurna (staged reading) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theater Project). Erin has assistant directed and dramaturged productions at the Goodman, Jackalope, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Northlight, and Remy Bumppo. Erin is a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College Chicago, the internship program at Steppenwolf, Jackalope's inaugural Playwright's Lab, and participated in the Goodman's Criticism in a Changing America bootcamp. Erin is a company member with Brown Paper Box Co. and is currently pursuing her MSW at Loyola.