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Three River Theatre
Newstead Auditorium

May 5th, 2021

Three River Theatre’s production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Pulitzer prize nominated play Gloria, is an experience that is affecting and potent if you go in without prior knowledge of the show’s plot. Gloria is a biting satire on a current generation driven by ego, social status and ambitious desire that is routinely suffocated by the mediocrity and monotony of an office inhabited by the aggressively determined but ultimately stifled “cubicle drones”.

The contradictory use of the tedium and mundanity found in the career of a cubicle clerk, to be the vehicle to accommodate the most ambitious of characters is a strikingly intriguing form of writing. Therefore, when the gut punch reveal comes around in the midway point, these desirous clerks face an extreme test of morality in the face of a crisis. “What stories do we have the right to tell? Is it our place to profit off another’s traumatic experience? How can I use this to facilitate my desire for fame?”

This conceit is what makes for an enjoyable night of provocative contemporary theatre. After talking to many audience members at Wednesday night’s opening, the spectacle blasted them with a visceral and kinaesthetic reaction to the events that unfolded during the nearly two-hour runtime. Thus, I think going into this show blind is the most beneficial and powerful way to experience it. For me, having read the full play previously, I found that this profound effect on others was impaired for me via my knowledge of the plot.

However, there were plenty of moments I found to be authentically compelling throughout the performance. Mason Bennett’s performances as both the young intern Miles and IT guy Devon, were remarkably mature performances, brimming with nuance and unsentimental intelligence that was noteworthy for such a young performer. Renee Bakker’s portrayal of titular character Gloria was magnetic to watch as she commanded the space adopting moments of stillness whenever she was onstage. This illustrated a character of loneliness and isolation that helped us feel sympathy for her. I was glad to see this rather than a caricatured figure of a “creepy freak”.

Travis Hennessey as Lorin was also a standout. His naturalistic progression through the play, from afflicted and stressed Lorin in Act 1 to the calm and even-tempered Lorin in Act 2; delivers us a different perspective on the approaches people take when handling traumatic circumstances. Unlike his counterparts Dean, Kendra and Nan, he tries to abandon the negative memories and live a fulfilling life of connection with others, rather than cashing in on the grief.

Mitchell Langley’s performance as Dean is complete with humour, understanding and empathy, however I think that while his delivery is good, his physicality could be relaxed a little to avoid crossing a line into caricature. Opening night jitters may have intensified the adrenaline, so as the season continues, he should be able to find a more relaxed physicality.

I think there was an opportunity lost however, when the double casting motif was shifted around compared to the original script. It is an acutely clever premise to have the actors from Act 1 reappear in Act 2 to execute the perception of generality in these office types. The attributes and quirks of the characters we meet in Act 1 are specifically likened to the character they appear as in Act 2, however, this slight shift in the makeup of who doubles for who, missed this point. Using it could have clearly defined Lorin’s objective and desire to find personal connections with those he works with, over the surface level caricature we associate them with.

IO Performance were collaborators on the design elements of the show, and they outlined their idea was to create a sense of mediocrity with the hypocrisy of the stimulus blocking aesthetic. This notion of mediocrity is a risk however because you run the risk of disengagement. I think there could have been more done with the set mechanically, that could have enhanced the blocking of the show.

Opening the second act we were taken into a Starbucks café, which was regrettably squeezed into the left-hand corner of the stage. This unfortunately limited the blocking of the scene as the action became cramped and stagnant. It was then followed by an overly long blackout and scene change which shattered the flow of the performance and left the audience twiddling their thumbs in the dark for a little bit too long. I would have personally loved to see the utilisation of the entire stage as the café even if this meant a longer set change. Even making this set change visible and a part of the performance would have minimised the blackout and given the audience an engaging transition to keep us going. It may have also facilitated again the premise of “everything is similar”, if the one scene we escaped from was reconstructed in front of our eyes.

Some projection issues which generally go along with an opening night also caused a little impediment, with many of the cast members being noticeably quiet to begin with, especially when they were competing over music. However, a lot of that can be attributed to the acoustics of the venue.

Three River is a clever company, one loaded with intelligent creatives and high risk takers and by bringing Gloria to Tasmania it hopefully springboards an abundance of edgy and contemporary theatre into the mainstream. Gloria is an enjoyable evening of edgy theatre, and its one that will stay with you long after the final curtain.

Review By Matt Taylor

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