Tasty stuff from graduating class

11 June 2021

‘Gloria’ is a brutally insightful play and WAAPA’s third year acting students have proven themselves worthy of the challenges it presents, writes David Zampatti.

Gloria, WAAPA third year acting students, directed by Kylie Bracknell (Kaarljilba Kaardn) ·
The Roundhouse Theatre, ECU Mt Lawley, 10 June 10 ·

There comes a point where “spoiler” protocols make reviews either impossible to write or so convoluted that their twists and turns become more obscure than whatever the plot device is that we are required to keep from our readers.

But you may as well know that, at the end of the first act, the titular character of Gloria (Madeline Marie Dona) suddenly guns down fourteen of her co-workers, ten fatally, before killing herself (you get to witness two of the murders and the suicide).

What matters to the American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, though, is not the anatomy of a mass murder but what happens before and after it.

Having pretty much stripped away both the shocking crime and its perpetrator from the core of the play, what we have is a sharp, corrosive examination of the stressful modern workplace, in this case the culture and entertainment department of a magazine in the Big Apple (Jacobs-Jenkins worked for some time at the New Yorker – I hate to think my beloved weekly is anything like this behind the scenes).

The dialogue – there’s a great deal of it, often delivered at warp speed – is sharply observational and often very funny; the observations about hierarchy (a subject the characters obsess about continually) and career paths (ditto) often brutally insightful.

When Kendra (Chaya Ocampo), an editorial assistant, complains that the top rungs in publishing are all occupied by privileged straight white men, Dean (Jack Twelvetree), her combative (and gay) colleague responds “You’re a rich Asian girl from Pasadena with a degree from Harvard. That is essentially a privileged straight white man”.

Kendra also points out that the tribulations of the publishing industry are the result of younger talent being stymied by workers in their sixties refusing to die (I shifted uncomfortably in my seat).

It’s all very tasty stuff.

After the carnage of Act One, the second revolves around the surviving characters’ attempts to write about – and sell – their horrific experiences. Dean and Kendra argue about non-disclosure agreements in a Starbucks. One of the magazine’s former editors, Nan (Dona, superbly, again) and its deeply traumatised former fact-checker Lorin (Darren Kumar) meet again at a TV production company in LA looking to option Nan’s somewhat spurious recount into a mini-series.

It becomes clear, as these unpleasant characters manoeuvre and strategise, that while Gloria and her gun may have changed their lives, it hasn’t changed them at all.

This is a really strong cast from the Western Australian Academy of Peforming Arts’ graduating acting students. Apart from the aforementioned performers, Raj Labade’s Aussie intern (and, later, a Kiwi “team member” at the Starbucks), Abbey Morgan’s book editor (“We publish books that can get made into movies so we can sell books”) and the striking Briana Esmé as an only superficially ditzy TV development assistant are memorable.

The director Kylie Bracknell (Kaarljilba Kaardn) is notable for her outstanding recent work for Perth Festival in Noongar language, Fists of Fury and Hecate. In Gloria she concentrates on maintaining the clarity, nuance and precision of another language, delivered in a stand-and-deliver rush, and the cast show themselves up to the considerable challenge.

For her work in that endeavor, Luzita Fereday’s vocal coaching deservedly gets special mention in the program.

I came away from Gloria, as I often do from WAAPA productions, with only one reservation. Why can’t we see more of this kind of well-crafted, powerful, contemporary work on Perth stages?

Perhaps our new professional companies, the Fremantle Theatre Company and Theatre 180, will parlay their auspicious beginnings into that, so necessary, undertaking.

In the meantime, however, WAAPA’s public performance program continues to bring Perth audiences work of the highest calibre, like this Gloria.

Gloria runs at WAAPA until 16 June 2021.

Pictured top are Madeline Marie Dona and Jack Twelvetree in ‘Gloria’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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