Tall Tales/TIO Denver: "Gloria" At Curious Theatre Company

“Gloria” is now up at Denver’s Curious Theatre Company. The run is through Feb. 16. Our Denver theater critic, award-winning author Mark Stevens, reviews the production. Tickets here.

Sydnee Fullmer as Ani, Rakeem Lawrence as Miles, Brian Kusic as Dean and Desirée Mee Jung as Kendra in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Gloria.” Image courtesy Curious Theatre Company.

Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, one of the hottest playwrights going, “Gloria” drew bursts of laughs and a standing ovation at the Curious Theatre on opening night.

Up in the balcony, at least, that standing ovation was somewhat tepid.

“Gloria” mines humor from a specific combination of setting and topic. Setting—the editorial offices of a magazine. Topic—the intense ambitions of the magazine’s varied brood of copyeditors and fact checkers and editorial assistants.

And the flash point? Well, other reviews might stick in the words “spoiler alert” at this point, but you can’t really ponder the pros and cons of “Gloria” without knowing that we are asked to laugh about the over-the-top drive of characters who seek to further their literary careers due to the fact they witnessed and/or survived a mass shooting, with both the killer and victims among their co-workers.

The office space of “Gloria” is the definition of hostile work environment. The pecking orders are entrenched. The office gossip is wicked. The trash-talking is worse. Deep career ambition colors all. Hangovers are hilarious. Two of the staffers, working for a magazine in Manhattan in the 21st century, fail to realize that they belittle the intern, the lone African-American, by sending him on meaningless errands for Vitamin Waters and such from the vending machine. Hilarious? Believable? Neither.

Post-shooting is post-intermission and the scene shifts to a Starbucks many months after and then, finally, to the offices of a film/television production company in L.A. The Starbucks scene gives two of the editorial assistants—Dean (Brian Kusic) and Kendra (Desirée Mae Jung)—a chance to first commiserate over the emotional fallout from having known the killer and several victims and then to berate and belittle each other as they spar over who has the more genuine opportunity turn the experience into a memoir. You see, Dean was an actual witness, while Kendra was off at this same coffee shop when the shooting went down. If this is meant so show the degree to which self-interest trumps empathy, so be it. The scene felt as ridiculous as this particular Starbucks, the only one in the world where you give your drink order to the guy who is out wiping-down tables and picking up the trash.

Actors from the first scene begin taking on new roles in the second scene and then again in the third, out in L.A. where the medium has shifted from words to film, but ambition remains a virus that kills any ability to relate to your fellow man.

Nothing changes. Got it.

Your mileage for laughs may vary. “Gloria” was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Perhaps living with Columbine High School to the immediate west and the Aurora Theater immediately to the east (close enough to hear the endless sirens the night it happened) changes one’s perspective. Perhaps having worked for decades in newsrooms where reporters return fresh from such tragedies alters one’s awareness of the actual concerns of real reporters and writers following such mass traumas. Magazine writers, too.

None of these issues are the fault of the Curious Theatre Company cast, who tackle this romp with zeal. As always with Curious productions, stimulation is guaranteed. Credit is due for undertaking this meaty piece. Brian Kusic, making his main-stage debut at Curious, offers a particularly strong performance as hungover editor Dean and, later, as a I.T. guy Devin in L.A. And Brian Landis Folkins, who plays Lorin, is wonderfully uptight as the fact-checker. Lorin feels our collective squeamishness; we do, too.

Are we supposed to cringe? Is that part of the deal? To laugh at ourselves and wonder if we are being sensitive enough to the overlooked in our midst? If so, that would explain the lukewarm standing O.

More about Mark Stevens:

Mark Stevens, courtesy Cyrus McCrimmon

Mark Stevens, courtesy Cyrus McCrimmon

Telluride Inside… and Out’s monthly (more or less) column, Tall Tales, is so named because contributor Mark Stevens is one long drink of water. He is also long on talent.

Mark Stevens was raised in Massachusetts, but he’s been a Coloradoan since 1980.

Mark has worked as a print reporter, ((Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, Rocky Mountain News), national news television producer, (MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour) and school district communicator. He’s now laboring in the new economy, listed under “s” for self-employed public relations exec.

Mark has published four Colorado-based mysteries, “Antler Dust”(2007), “Buried by the Roan” (2011), “Trapline” (2014) and “Lake of Fire” (2015).  “Trapline” won the Colorado Book Award. The fifth book, “The Melancholy Howl,” is out now and has received universal raves.

“The author masterfully illustrates many of the complex issues around legalized marijuana and the gray swamp between legal and illegal, inhabited by productive beavers and deadly water moccasins alike. From beginning to end, ‘The Melancholy Howl ‘is a well-written, riveting, gotta-see-what-happens-next read. So, whether this is your first Mark Stevens novel or your fifth, it most certainly won’t be your last,” wrote the Colorado Book Review.

For more about Mark, check out his website.

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Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens was raised in Massachusetts. He’s been a Coloradoan since 1980. He’s a print reporter, national news television producer and school district communicator. He’s now working in the new economy and listed under “s” for self-employed. Stevens has published two Colorado-based mysteries, Antler Dust (2007) and Buried by the Roan (2011). The third book in the Allison Coil Mystery Series is under production and tentatively slated for release in 2013.

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