Ian Fitzgerald, Faith Artis, Krystal Waller, Ashley Cabrera, and Bailey Ramirez in Gloria. Photo: UofL
By Brendan Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Jennifer Pennington
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In a typically frantic, overwrought morning in the edit department of a venerable periodical, only one staffer, Ani (Ashley Cabrera) and an intern, Miles, (Darrin Mosely) are at work before 10 am, Dean (Ian Fitzgerald) blows in later with a hangover, and Kendra (Bailey Ramirez) has spent the morning shopping. You can’t help but wonder how these people hold onto their jobs
The conversation is tooth and claw internecine bickering but with one unassuming thread about the socially awkward Gloria’s (Blair Potter) housewarming party the previous night. Dean is the only one of Gloria’s co-worker who bothered to attend the sad affair, and he only made it through by getting drunk, hence the hangover. For awhile the play feels like a superior workplace sit com.
I hesitate to say more except that the story turns to encompass gun violence and the trauma and exploitation of such events. Brendan Jacobs-Jenkins blends several hot button topics into a potent satirical stew that feints at melodrama but digs much deeper. He is breaking down the opportunism driven by the media culture and tangential connection to tragedy and suffering and it is not a pretty picture. And if there be any doubt, he places his characters in the publishing industry years after “print is dead” has become the watchword.
He also puts fast and caustic language in the mouths of his characters. If you like juicy dialogue this play will hit your sweet spot. The cast does such a good job with it, this is one of the best acted productions I’ve seen from the University of Louisville. They attack the material with relish and find the light and the dark humanity in these complex characters and their surprising actions. Most (Ashley Cabrera, Bailey Ramirez, Darrin Mosely, and Ian Fitzgerald) are asked to play multiple characters, and do so with ingenuity.
Kevn Gawley and Aspen Mirfeldt’s set design consists of asymmetrical modern pieces that provide contrasting rising and descending shapes. It adroitly echoes the shifts among the characters. They are dressed by Aniyah Adams appropriately to each individual’s personality.
Jennifer Pennington is a confident director and her assuredness serves her in excavating the detail and nuance of the relationships within the shifting tone of Jacobs-Jenkins writing. The first act is fast-paced comedy but the second is brittle and strained; still funny but with an understanding of the fragility of the social contract that is sobering. Although there are a couple of moments of overemphatic acting, the ensemble mostly discover the underlying truths of each moment, and I credit Pennington with pushing to that level. Faith Artis and Krystal Waller occupy their individual characters throughout, a contrast in reactions to trauma that is a thumbnail of the play’s central idea.
Gloria is an important American play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2016, and yet another example of the value of academic theatre programs bringing such plays to Louisville. Outside of Actors Theatre, it’s difficult to think of another company operating in Louisville that would have the nerve and resources to take it on. Pennington’s production may not be perfect, but it is bold and challenging and will likely be seen by only a small number of people. Opening night was a sparse audience of what I took to be mostly U of L students. If you care about what’s happening in American theatre and the work of contemporary Black playwrights in particular, Gloria must be counted as an essential experience and one not to be missed.
Featuring Faith Artis, Ashley Cabrera, Ian Fitzgerald, Darrin Mosely, Blair Potter, Bailey Ramirez, & Krystal Waller
November 11-13, 18-19University of Louisville Dept of Theater Arts
U of L Playhouse
1911 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40292
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.