Gloucester Stage Company’s ‘Gloria’ Provocatively Asks, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

Cast of Gloucester Stage’s production of “Gloria” by Branden Jacob Jenkins. Photos: Shawn G. Henry

by Shelley A. Sackett

‘Gloria’ takes us on a ride inside the rollercoaster that is the essence of a 2010s Manhattan cultural magazine’s editorial assistant bullpen subculture. (Its playwright, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, worked at The New Yorker for three years). These players are unapologetic and clear about their singular goal: to leave their dead end stepping-stone jobs, climb out of the low prestige depths of editorial assistantship and secure a book deal before turning thirty. Each is constantly on the backstabbing prowl in search of that tipping point moment that will catapult them out of their murky office pit.

Reminiscent of the long-running television hit, “The Office,” the first act of ‘Gloria’ is an entertaining mash-up of deadpan humor, smart and provocative language and near slapstick-caliber physicality. The dialogue is full of wit, sarcasm, social commentary and sharp insight, delivered at breakneck speed. Competitive malice is the glue that binds these folks; shredding insults is their common language. No one is happy and no one is to be trusted, from the Harvard intern (Miles) who wears headphones as a decoy to the jaded almost-30 closet memoirist (Dean), the acid-tongued spoiled shopaholic narcissist (Kendra) and the spiritually eviscerated factchecker (Lorin) and over-educated, underpaid receptionist (Ani) .

Yet, in their individual and collective ways, this motley crew of wannabes somehow endears themselves as they bare their fangs, souls and vulnerabilities. They become like family — with all its good, bad and ugliness —and we accept and appreciate the way they unapologetically let it all hang out. Bryn Boice’s thoughtful and affective direction exposes their naked underbellies, yet still elicits our caring and empathy.

Into this mix enters Gloria, a pathetic and classic spinster loner who has dedicated her life to the magazine. An editor, she is the butt of more than one cruel joke and the object of the bullpen’s venomous envy. The night before, she threw herself an extravagant birthday party, complete with DJ and catered food. She invited the entire staff of the magazine; only one editorial assistant showed up, adding salt to an already unhealable wound.

Michael Wood, Ann Dang

The repercussions of this slight go beyond hangovers and lame excuses, but it would be truly criminal to reveal what they are. Suffice it to say that Act I’s ending guarantees that no one is likely to leave during intermission.

Act II shifts gears so dramatically the audience is at risk of whiplash. Eight months later, the same characters are still front and center, but as individuals leading separate lives away from the magazine. All are dealing with the aftermath of a shared trauma that each exploits their own way. Gone is Jacobs-Jenkins’ spicy, electric-paced dialogue, replaced by the dull and relentless thrum of boundless, humorless ambition.

Jacobs-Jenkins does not hide the ball. His message — that we live in an age of exploitation that has no bottom — weighs heavy and depressingly without the fleet-footed wit he brought to his first act, and it’s a weary audience that welcomes the play’s end.

Ann Dang, Theresa Langford, Michael Broadhurst

Despite an uneven script and inconclusive ending, Gloucester Stage’s production is definitely worth seeing. Small touches add a lot. Props such as Asus and Toshiba laptops (remember those?) and a sound track of J. S. Bach: Mass in B minor ground us in the moment. The cast is terrific, and does its best to articulate Act I’s rapid-fire monologues clearly (strong standouts are Michael Wood as Dean and the talented Teresa Langford as Ani; Michael Broadhurst’s meltdown as Lorin gives Peter Finch’s classic “Network” stiff competition). Esme Allen brings an unpretentious ease to Act II’s Nan. And Boice misses no chance to add meaningful touches; under her direction, even changing sets becomes an opportunity for whimsical choreography.

‘Gloria,’ a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2016, raises important issues for this era of continuing confusion and division over what constitutes news and how it should get disseminated. Should writers only create their own stories, or is it okay to co-opt someone else’s? Whose story is a shared event to tell and who decides what the “true” version of that story is? What are the differences between storytelling as catharsis, opportunism and exploitation and does it even matter anymore? Do those lines still exist?

Perhaps Lin-Manuel Miranda summed it up best in his peerless “Hamilton” when he wrote, “You have no control, Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

‘Gloria’ — written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Directed by Bryn Boice. Scenic Design by Jeffrey Petersen; Costume Design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt; Lighting Design by Aja M. Jackson; Sound Design by David Remedios. Presented by Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St., Gloucester through June 26.

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After two-year lapse, teens will head to Israel for Y2I Adventure


Teens get to know each other during Y2I pre-trip meetings.

By Shelley A. Sackett

BEVERLY — Over the last two years, the pandemic has clipped the wings of many a traveler, including rising sophomores and juniors who had hoped to go on Lappin Foundation’s 12-day, fully subsidized Youth to Israel Adventure.

Established in 1970 by the late philanthropist Robert Israel Lappin as a way to build Jewish pride, connect young people to Israel, and imbue them with a sense of love and responsibility for their Jewish brethren, the trip has become a rite of passage for teens who live in any of the Lappin Foundation’s north of Boston service area’s cities and towns.

Despite lingering concerns about COVID-19, the Y2I trip will resume from June 26 to July 8, with 83 teens from 31 communities and 41 high schools. More than one-third are from interfaith families, and Camp Bauercrest campers will join Y2I for the third time.

“Community building is a big part of the trip,” said Lappin Foundation Executive Director Deborah L. Coltin, who has supervised Y2I since 2006.

Coltin acknowledges that the big difference between 2022 and previous Y2I trips has to do with COVID-19 precautions. While the pre-trip meetings and trip itinerary remain largely unchanged, testing, mandatory proof of vaccinations and boosters, and contingency plans in case anyone tests positive prior to departure from Israel provide added layers of safety.

“We will abide by the rules of travel that are in effect at the time. Other than that, the trip will be full of activity, exploration, new friends, and self-discovery,” Coltin said.

Danvers High School sophomore Norah Hass is not worried about any aspect of the trip. She learned about it from her brother Jared, who made the trip in 2019, and welcomed the opportunity to meet more Jewish teens. “Danvers has a very small Jewish community, so this will be a nice change,” she said. She is most excited to swim in the Dead Sea, which she has heard is “something everyone should experience once in their lifetime.”

An informal discussion during a pre-trip Y2I meeting.

Ariana Selby, whose two teens Jackson, 17, and Talia, 15, will travel with Y2I on the trip, likewise has no concerns about her children’s safety. “The Y2I teams has been extremely informative and transparent throughout the process of planning and arranging travel,” the Marblehead mom said. “Israel is known for its superior healthcare system, so I am not worried about COVID-19.”

Her youngest, Nathan, 13, is looking forward to his turn in a few years. Selby hopes her teens grow together as siblings during the trip and make lasting bonds with other travelers. “I also hope they are inspired to form a deeper connection to their Jewish roots,” she added.

While Claudia Granville, of Boston, is a full-throated supporter of both the Lappin Foundation and the Y2I experience, she is a little worried about what would happen if her daughter Mabel, 16, tested positive in Israel and had to stay in a designated hotel until testing negative, but is optimistic the policy may have changed by July.

Even so, Mabel and her family remain enthusiastic about her upcoming opportunity, which Granville calls “a foundational trip for Jewish teenagers growing up in this time” amid the profound prevalence of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. “It is essential for our teens to be exposed to and experience Israel in a positive light, especially before college,” she said. She hopes Mabel, who plans to join Lappin Foundation’s Teen Antisemitism Task Force next year, will learn enough to return home with “talking points when she is inevitably faced with anti-Israel rhetoric.”

For Elizabeth Cushinsky and her four children, Y2I is a family affair. Seth, 17, will follow in his three sisters’ footsteps when he attends Y2I this summer. She has no concerns for Seth’s physical safety while in Israel, but she is concerned about COVID-19 and the fact that he and his fellow travelers will be traveling on a plane, touring in buses, and staying in hotels.

“This is a trip of a lifetime for him. There is no question that the benefits outweigh the risks,” the Marblehead mom said.

She hopes Y2I inspires Seth to join Hillel in college and continue enjoying and practicing his Judaism as he grows older. “Even living in a Jewish area on the North Shore, we struggle to bring our children up in a largely Christian world. It gets even more challenging as they grow older,” Cushinsky said, noting with pride that Seth wears a mezuzah around his neck every day.

To Cushinsky, Y2I’s focus on inclusivity is as noteworthy as its emphasis on Jewish pride. “They go out of their way to make sure all teens feel welcome and supported, regardless of their needs [social, emotional, or related to another type of disability]. The supports are kept low key, so teens don’t feel different than anyone else on the trip,” she said.