Gloria – The end of subjectivity in a meaningless office. (Theatre review)
The Seymour Theatre and Outhouse Theatre Company
6 – 22 June. You can grab your tickets here.
Images: Clare Hawley
In an outstanding act of courageous curating, Outhouse Theatre Company bring us one of the most interesting, modern and damning pieces of theater we’ve seen on a Sydney stage in 2019. In a ruthless take down of the professional writing industry, writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins pours a thinly veiled scathing critique of professional writing and industrialised boutique workhouses that stretches into a commentary on all industrialised artistic works. Outhouse Theratre cleverly use Branden Jacobs-Jenkins own written citadel in the front pages of their program, launching a ‘defense’ against a presumption the writer speaks about The New Yorker offices, which (of course) we never presumed until it was set in the stone of his refutation. This clever action leads the thinking theatre viewer to extend the play into a critique of all ‘professional’ writing that (it will come to no surprise to anyone) is profoundly close to my own heart. The lazy, fat and ineffective world of professional writing is beautifully and properly summed up in the character Kendra (elegantly cast by Alexander Berlage and flawlessly performed by Michelle Ny) whose insane virtual monolog rant of the first act drives us to a secret internal wish that she be shot dead. (This contains its own ironic complexity that unfolds through the play, but it reveals masterful writing.) For Alexander Berlarge to direct this in front a bunch of Sydney critics who have the power to publicly damn his play is an act of courage I rarely see on a Sydney stage, presumably because of the material power critics have to deny a play its full house. To demystify this for Sydney audiences is essential. For Sydney audiences (and potential audiences) to finally understand critical perspective is no measure of a play’s worth is important to the longevity of theatre and the existence of real criticism.
However, Gloria communicates far more than a critique of an ineffectual writing industry. For Branden Jacobs-Jenkins the problem of sitting at a workplace desk despite having nothing to do and waking up to find you’ve been doing that for the past twenty years reverberates through every written word. Being ‘subject’ in its traditional sense, means taking up a position from which an actor can make the transition from theory to practice. This is exemplified in the university to workspace transition, by that peculiar agent, the intern. The transition usually takes place once an actor has found the motive that liberates them from hesitation and disinhibits them from action. For a long time, this imperative to action has been compulsion through command, that is often of a social nature. This is the motivation the positively geared might call ‘vision’ or ‘responsibility to one’s debtors’ and the naysayers might call ‘ego’ or ‘money.’ The drive for individualism calls forth an agent to now own and control their own authority that gives their commands to act. Inside this then, action is not driven by rousing passions or inescapable compulsions, but rather manifests as obeying sound self-understood reasons and sensible interests. Consultants replace ideologues and the right to success is packaged and marketed in economic terminology, its key factors being leadership skills, intuition, charisma and so on, the onus of which each individual must embrace in order to authenticate that controllable connection between project and luck.
Therefore, the modern form of absolution is via consultation in the halls of government ministries and the arts locates itself firmly in this state with its insistence on a dependence upon the grant funding teat. Creativity in some sort of pure form is relegated to those well outside established channels and they are usually too exhausted or poor to follow through on their ‘ideas.’ For those relegated to the daily workhouse practice of ‘being creative’ sovereignty now means deciding what one will fall for. In Gloria Branden Jacobs-Jenkins calls this disunity into being on the stage before us, first in the office and then in the Starbucks, that Americanised café where culture goes to die. For the characters of Gloria, so far in absentia as to be non-existent are Camus drive of Sisyphus, Nietzsche’s will to power and Kant’s categorical imperative. These intellectual mythologies learned precisely by the literary graduate exist only to inflict standards of self-assessment that result in immediate paralysis. There is nothing left to do but speak an endless cry of nothingness into an office filled with empty heads, while overprivileged editors sit behind bullet-proof glass.
This production of Gloria, produced by Outhouse Theatre Company and directed by Alexander Berlarge is a stellar shout out in an already exciting year of theatre on the independent Sydney stages. Complicated and treating its audience with great respect, Gloria is a cerebral experience that asks much of its audience while treating them to a properly ‘entertaining’ ride of a show replete with thrills and action. Alexander Berlarge calls forth marvelous transitions on a Jeremy Allen designed set that is managed by Ellen Castles and Bronte Schuftan. With sound from Ben Pierpoint and lighting design by Alexander Berlarge that adheres to a potent naturalism, the Real of Gloria is called forth in a disarming and vigorous cohesion that results in layers of appreciation in each scene.
Equally, Gloria stands on its fine performances that pulse at the crux of its multifarious ideas. The entire cast are strong in their roles with exciting nuances enhanced that brings the script alive. Annabel Harte’s performed resemblance to Reece Witherspoon, Justin Amankwah’s multiple versions of servitude, protection and ‘support,’ Rowan Witt’s ‘white gay guy’ followed up by his ‘white IT guy’ Michelle Ny’s same woman, different office, and Georgina Symes opposing elements that meet to form a circle are small examples of unique and clever characterisation properly realised according to the writers intent. It’s all wrapped up in the perspective of Reza Momenzada as Lorin who forms a perfect philosopher foil to all the unpleasant machinations inside the pointless modern office.
Gloria is a superb production, beautifully wrought and elegantly brought to the stage by a strong team. It’s a great opportunity to get your teeth into something that will provide strong food for thought and unique capacity to combine entertainment and reflection. Highly Recommended.
 This is a presumption that I have never seen examined in a study. Perhaps more plays are ‘critic-proof’ than we realise? Perhaps less. Either way, critic-proofing theatre is essential and can only enhance theatre and criticism.