Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Cleveland Public Theatre
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's review of Tiny Houses

Isaiah Betts, Sarah Maria Yannie, Michael Prosen,
Sally Groth, Keith Kornajcik, and Evangeline Zhiyi Han

Photo by Steve Wagner
Years ago, an experiment was conducted where lab rats were introduced to a perfect "lab rat environment" with plenty of nutritious food, clean water, and clean living areas. Over time, additional lab rats were added. Even though the conditions never changed (plenty of food and water and regular cleanings of the area), at some point when the population reached a certain level the rats began eating each other.

In nearly every school from kindergarten up to advanced college and spilling over into the work place, there is some kind off odd bird, someone who just does not fit in. Thrown them into a toxic environment of back stabbing peers in a depressingly antibacterial cubical workspace and the lid on the pressure cooker is sealed tighter with every passing day. This is the story behind Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Gloria, powerfully directed at Cleveland Public Theatre by Beth Wood.

At a renowned magazine in New York City, six co-workers are part of a large staff that keeps the monthly periodical going out to American homes. Most of the articles are fluff pieces about various pop culture celebrities (especially when they overdose or die). Although these co-workers spend a bulk of their awake time working side by side, they really are not aware of each other's problems, nor do they care. They are stuck in their own world of trying to climb the corporate ladder to editorship one painful rung at a time.

Miles (Isaiah Betts) is a six-week intern working the last day of his low pay servitude. He took the summer gig just for the experience, not knowing what his after-college plans will be when he graduates next spring. Ani (Sarah Maria Yannie) is on the cusp of realizing that her dream of rising above her editorial assistant job may never happen. Twenty-nine and three quarters years old assistant editor Dean (Michael Prosen) arrives with his perennial hangover, having been the sole office attendee at the previous night's housewarming party for sixteen-year magazine veteran editor Gloria (Sally Groth), who went to great expense having the affair catered and bartended.

Arriving late from yet another shopping spree is assistant editor Kendra (Evangeline Zhiyi Han), who never seems to have any assignments from her editor and flits in and out of the office for lunches and coffee whenever the whim hits her. Lastly, there is Lorin (Keith Kornajcik), the over-stressed and overworked "fact checker" who constantly has to make trips from his area from down the hall to break up the noisy arguments that spring up and disrupt his own staff's work. Offstage behind an office door is Nan (Sally Groth), one of the many editors. She is about to find out the reason for her morning sickness.

In spite of a myriad of warning signs which are summarily dismissed by the self-centered staff, a disaster of epic proportions befalls everyone involved, with life-changing effects that will last for years and possibly the rest of their lives.

This intensely written drama with wisps of comedy is wonderingly performed by an experienced cast. Although there were some minor line flubs at the performance I attended, it was not enough to deter from the main focus of the work. Michael Prosen as Dean is surprising as the center of the drama, playing in short order: a budding alcoholic, disillusioned employee, survivor, and damaged man. Evangeline Zhiyi Han as Kendra makes you want to climb onstage and smack her one, just to get her to stop talking and look at what is happening around her.

Sarah Maria Yannie as Ani yearns for romance, motherhood and family but is too caught up in her dream of success in the world of magazines. Sally Groth as Gloria has that "looking right through you" stare that sends chills up the spine. Isaiah Betts' Miles has the perfect "it's just a job" attitude. All of these actors play dual roles, and close attention must be paid so as not to be confused. Keith Kornajcik as Lorin does an amazing job of showing suppressed loathing and hatred toward his fellows and in the second act a broken man slowly recovering.

A note must be made of the exceptional stage design by Benjamin Gantose, built by master carpenter Daniel Schumacher with Cayla Destefano, Shannon McManus, Vince Tose and Tim Young. It is totally representative of the sterile soul-crushing environment of the average cubical setting, right down to the lack of personal effects on the desks.

Prior to the play's start, numerous warnings concerning loud gun shots are given as well as hints to the violent content of the show. Those who are sensitive to such actions may wish to avoid this production.

This is a show ripped from the front pages of the nation's newspapers and magazines. It illustrates the pressure cooker environment that many citizens have to endure on a daily basis, without the benefit of sound mental health counseling. In short, the "Great American Experiment" is coming to a close and the rats have begun to eat each other. If you have ever worked in a tight office environment, see this show. You will totally relate to it.

Gloria, through April 13, 2019, at Cleveland Public Theatre, Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 216-631-2727.

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