The Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts program opens its 2023 Spring season with the dark comedy Gloria. Written by Obie award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, this finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama runs on the SRJC campus through March 12.
In true millennial fashion, Jacobs-Jenkins’ work is susceptible to spoilers. To know much about the plot is to lessen the story’s impact. Just know that the warnings in the program about gun violence, suicide, strong language and loud noises should be taken seriously, and when it says dark comedy, the emphasis is on dark.
Starting in a pre-pandemic, midtown-Manhattan magazine office, Jacobs-Jenkins ostensibly explores millennials’ role in the modern office environment. However, as with real life, things go off the rails pretty quickly, and by intermission the audience is left to realize that the play is about so much more.
All actors play multiple roles, except for Nate Musser’s nuanced and highly controlled performance of the realistically-neurotic Lorin. Juliya Lubin’s ice-queen Nan is strong, but her portrayal of the titular Gloria is too one-dimensional. Much is learned about the character’s humanity and normalcy later in the play, and it would have been nice to have seen some of that in her performance.
The first act of the script hinges on razor-sharp dialogue to attain the gut punch it leads toward. Unfortunately, Nina Nguyen’s Kendra delivers that dialogue in a monotone, robbing the words of their impact. On the whole, though, the students do an exceptional job of feeling out characters written with a depth and refinement that most college students have yet to find.
With the exception of direction by department chair Leslie McCauley, the play is entirely student-produced. The SRJC’s technical theater department shines through its students here. The lighting design (Chris Cota) is highly nuanced, if a tad overcomplicated. The costume design (Sophie Marie-Carlton) is detail-oriented. The set (Nora Meas) is cleverly designed to create various locations without much change, and the properties design (Abby Miranda) is frighteningly realistic.
Despite its flaws, the production does convey the deep moral conundrums Jacob-Jenkins intended. As he himself states, this play is really about who owns the story. In this production, the students have done a worthy job of taking ownership.
‘Gloria’ runs Thurs–Sun through March 12 in the Santa Rosa Junior College’s Burbank Auditorium Studio Theatre, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. Thurs–Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $5–$25. 707.527.4307. theatrearts.santarosa.edu.