GV Theatre addresses tough topics in “Gloria”


GVL / Meghan Tripp

Omari Seaberry, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University’s Theatre program premiered their performance of  “Gloria,” a contemporary play originally written by award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins on Nov. 8.

“Gloria” originally debuted off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in May 2015. The story is a dramatic comedy that follows the lives of working Americans after a sudden tragedy. It explores dynamics in the workplace and aims to provide a more expressive take on societal conflict.

The director, Diane Machin, said Jacob-Jenkins’ writing in the play is inspired by his own experiences and elaborated on throughout the play. 

“Before (Jacob-Jenkins’) journey of becoming a playwright, he worked in an editorial office, where the first act of the play takes place,” Machin said. 

Machin said she chose “Gloria” for the GVSU Theatre Program because of the play’s commentary, as it’s centered around young adults and college students. 

“Last year, the faculty asked what types of plays would you love to direct with the students and I said that I’ve really been wanting to do a play specifically with young people,” Machin said. “The first act takes place in the editorial office with young workers who have way more ambition for their lives than just working in the office. Then a big event happens.”

The action of the plot drastically shifts when there is a shooting at the office the play is set in within the first act that leaves two people dead. To lessen the surprise and minimize triggers for the audience, Machin and other faculty members made sure to notify viewers and participants about this content. The rest of the play pertains to how the characters handle the aftermath of the traumatic event.

“The way that they deal with it is not what we would assume and is in toxic, uncomfortable and backwards ways,” Machin said. “Jacobs-Jenkins is able to write for very different character backgrounds in really nuanced and specific ways.”

During the rehearsal process, fight director Timothy Acker came in to choreograph a shooting sequence in the play and teach students safe ways to execute it. There was an emphasis on the importance of getting the performers and audiences ready to interact with challenging material.

“When this play is done in larger metropolitan areas, I think that people who go to see a play like this have an understanding and expectation on what is shocking,” Machin said. “For students, especially now, a lot of people have not been in super public places and there is something about seeing this public place in the play while a horrific event is happening.”

Machin said she had directed two other plays a year prior that had much larger casts than “Gloria.” This production’s cast has only six actors, which was specific to the play.

“It is a different vibe when you’re working with a large cast versus six people,” Machin said. “You spend a lot of time together and get more time to delve into the subtle details between the characters. It also allowed us to garner a robust understudy program.”

“Gloria” will run until Dec. 4. More information on the event can be found on the GVSU Theatre Program’s website and event calendar.