Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's recent review of Murder on the Orient Express
Set in the 2010s, the underlying narrative that the plot and characters are set against focuses on the aftermath of the impact that the internet had on print media where page clicks are king and subscription revenues are down. The employees at the assistant level often feel like their careers are stagnant, with no future for them in a world in which the baby boomers have risen to executive positions and aren't going anywhere.
The first act takes place in the cubicle pool of assistants who work in the editorial department of an unnamed magazine. The trio of ambitious assistants who are all in their 20s include Dean (Johnny Kalita), who works for the culture editor but has also secretly written his memoir, Kendra (Willa Eigo), the aggressive and career focused young woman who is intent to not still be an assistant when she turns 30, and Ani (Sabrina Harding), who is somewhat younger and less jaded. Lorin (Jonathan Hernandez) is an overworked and exhausted fact checker who works just down the hall and says the company "sucks the soul out of you." Even Miles (Everett Purvall), the editorial department intern who is treated like a glorified servant by Dean and Kendra who often send him to get items from the vending machine for them, says that it seems like everyone who works there is miserable.
And then there is Gloria (Megan Holcomb). She works in the copy department and just bought her first apartment. She's also known as the "office freak" due to her shy demeanor and social awkwardness. Her catered, house-warming party she held the night before, which she invited practically the whole company to, was only attended by a handful of people, including Dean, so she is even more introverted, upset, and reclusive today than usual.
And that's about all I can say about the plot without giving too much away. I can add that there is something that happens that sets up how people deal with the aftermath of a major event. Jacobs-Jenkins' dialogue, characters, and plot points are focused and realistic. He clearly defines the unhealthy nature of this work environment, where rivalries, pettiness, and awkward social situations overshadow the work; anyone who has worked in corporate America will find much in the characters and situations that resonates and may make them shudder. He also makes you think about the aftermath of trauma. Who is a victim and who is just a leech looking to profit off the suffering of others?
Dolores E. Mendoza is an actress in town I've admired for many years. She is making her full-length directorial debut with this production and her work here is impeccable. The attention she has given to ensuring that each character is unique (not always easy to do when all but one of your cast play multiple roles), with focused portrayals, and that the situations, both humorous and horrific, ring true is commendable. Her staging is varied and effectively uses the space well.
David J. Castellano's multi-purpose scenic design is excellent in its versatility to portray three different locations. The lighting design by Stacey Walston evokes the harsh overhead lighting of corporate America, and Jessie Tully's costumes are character appropriate. Garrett Unterreiner's sound design provides several effective sound effects and Rachelle Dart's fight choreography includes a slap that is so realistic you can feel the sharp sting of it even seated a dozen rows back from the stage.
The cast is also top-notch, with great work from Johnny Kalita and Willa Eigo as the bickering and antagonizing Dean and Kendra, and Megan Holcomb, stellar as always, as two vastly different individuals, Gloria and Dean's boss Nan. In smaller roles, Sabrina Harding and Everett Purvall derive distinct individuals. As good as those five cast members are, and they are very good, it's the emotionally sound and moving performance in act three by Jonathan Hernandez as Lorin that will resonate the most–his quiet, fragile, and personal plea for kindness and compassion is one we all need to sit up and pay attention to.
Gloria runs through October 14, 2023, at Stray Cat Theatre, with performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please call 480-227-1766 or visit straycattheatre.org.
Director: Dolores E. Mendoza