Review: Gloria, Melbourne Theatre Company

Raphael Solarsh

A darkly humours skewing of those who dwell in the ivory tower of publishing.
Review: Gloria, Melbourne Theatre Company
Aileen Huynh and Jordan Fraser-Trumble in MTC's Gloria. Photo: Brett Boardman.

When something horrific or scandalous happens we ask two questions: What happened, and what does it mean? The first is answered by the news, the second by the book. Anyone who works in the publishing industry (such as myself) knows the morbid fascination that publishers have with the news. In the unending battle to capture in black and white the stories that resonate in the public imagination, publishers play a perverse game in which the goal is to own tragedy. At their best these kinds of books can offer balm to a public wound or expose injustice. At their worst, they are vehicles for the selfish fulfilment of ambition leveraged off the tragedy of others. Gloria takes a uniquely American look at how ego, privilege and circumstance warp people’s relationships with trauma and the telling of its story.

The first act is one of normalcy, the kind of normalcy that breeds complacency and entitlement because ‘what could possibly go wrong and everything is such a drag’. When you add young creative professionals trying to work their way up the not-so-corporate but still rigidly hierarchical structures of the publishing world, you get the inevitable complaining, back-biting and accumulated frustration that anyone who has worked in an office would recognise. There's the ‘If I were in charge…’ Kenrda, the ‘I’m going to work and schmooze my up’ Dean, the ‘I won’t become as cynical as you guys’ Ani and of course the intern. These may not be the most likeable characters but in their unending complaints and self-aggrandisement, they set the scene beautifully.

The second and third acts are the response where ego, selective memory and ambition are partially peeled away by the emotional weight of real trauma. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins doesn’t spare his characters but by artfully exposing them in key moments, shows just enough vulnerability and authenticity to prevent them being written off as terrible people. There are no real heroes and although there’s certainly some villainy, no real villains either, just people unwilling or unable to see an external reality that they know is there.

There is something quintessentially American in this: a blurring of the line between what people want to be real and what they know is real. Entitlement often has its roots in privilege but the darker side of entitlement, where it extends to an unchallenged worldview, is consummately captured in Gloria. In Dean and Kendra, we see how that world-view becomes an extension of themselves and who they want to be but we see too how when it’s threatened that the attack is deeply personal.

In the telling of tragedy in today’s media, ownership is everything, because what matters now in such polarised public discourse is not what is accurate but which side – right or left, liberal or conservative, and so on and so on and so on – wins or owns the tragedy. Why? Because whoever owns it is the only one who can repair the damage, the damage caused by that victory be damned.

In the cut and thrust of news coverage, the book deals, the rights, there are the people. Sometimes it’s the ones who say the least, at least in public, who understand the most. I said there were no heroes per se in Gloria, but in Lorin, the head fact checker turned roving temp, there is a note of optimism, perhaps even rationality. It’s telling then, that at first he is the one who seems most unhinged.

Gloria’s arrival is timely; a disquieting and devilishly enjoyable production.

4 stars: ★★★★

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Gloria
By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Lee Lewis
Set & Costume Designer: Christina Smith
Lighting Designer: Paul Jackson
Composer & Sound Designer: Russell Goldsmith
Voice & Dialect Coach: Anna McCrossin-Owen
Cast: Callan Colley, Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Jane Harber, Aileen Huynh, Lisa McCune, Peter Paltos

The Sumner, Southbank Theatre, Southbank
16 June – 21 July 2018


What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Raphael Solarsh is writer from Melbourne whose work has appeared in The Guardian, on Writer’s Bloc and in a collection of short stories entitled Outliers: Stories of Searching. When not seeing shows, he writes fiction and blogs at raphaelsolarsh.com and tweets @RS_IndiLit.