Gripping comedy-drama 'Gloria' at Gamm

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Playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins has a knack for fleshing out his characters while creating an original comedy/drama with messages about the workplace and the ruthless people who inhabit it.

“Gloria” is staged with six terrific actors playing 13 characters, plus themselves at two different times in their lives. The two-act play starts innocently in the office of a magazine publisher, where ambitious writers, editors and fact-checkers compete for the big story, while whining about being stuck in a dead-end job. The in-fighting, lying and general meanness grows and grows until a fateful event happens and we take a break to digest everything that happened.

The second act opens in a Starbucks and ends in another office, where everything comes together (or from another perspective, falls apart). If all this is vague, it is because the element of surprise and shock is vital to the play.

Gamm veteran Jeff Church plays Dean, the central character in the play, who is secretly writing a book while reveling in stirring up trouble among his office mates.

Popular singer Sarah Tweed has died suddenly and everyone wants a crack at the story, which raises tensions and hints at the direction “news” is headed. It is the final day for Miles, (Marc Pierre), an intern who serves as a threat to Dean.

In the second act, we find the characters in a different place, both physically and emotionally. Everyone wants to write about the previous events in the first act, causing more tension and bitterness.

Jacobs-Jenkins uses a number of innovative approaches to storytelling that makes this play different from what you usually see on stage. Telling you more about the plot would spoil the surprises and shock.

Director Rachel Walshe keeps the dialogue moving fast and furious, working with the actors to morph smoothly into their different characters without confusing the audience.

Except for Church, the actors are new to Gamm audiences, most with experience on Boston stages. I was particularly impressed with Gabriel Graetz, who played an older, despondent fact-checker and summed up the play with great passion at the end. Jordan Clark, Jennifer Mishley and Alison Russo rounded out the fine cast.

“Gloria” is a welcome addition to Gamm’s season, quite different from anything I have seen before. You will laugh. You will be shocked. You may even see yourself or those you work with.

Artistic Director Tony Estrella has made his black box theatre work perfectly for the play, creating a realistic office setting on stage and then putting the second act in front of the stage, directly in front of the audience, creating a Starbucks atmosphere and another office with only a few props.

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