Miriam Moore-Keish ’19

The English Honor Society hosted its annual theater trip on December 1st to see Prescient Harbingers: Gloria at Mixed Blood Theatre. Prescient Harbingers, a response to the midterm elections, is composed of three full-length plays by African-American playwrights “glued together by an African American male prism, through contrast, and via Second Amendment violations” (Mixed Blood Theatre). Audience members could see all three: “Hooded,” “Gloria,” and “Hype Man,” or pick and choose. Rohan Preston’s review of the trio appeared in the Star Tribune, reading, “While the festival title posits these as ‘harbingers,’ they are less about what’s coming than what’s here, percolating uneasily in our souls.”

EHS offered the opportunity for English majors and minors to see Gloria. Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed by Lavina Jadhwani, Gloria combines humor and cynicism to mock print media. The Mixed Blood website says, “An adrenaline rush of a show, Gloria is a shocking, hilarious and spectacularly honest play set among the hyperambitious cubicle dwellers of a once-great magazine. Like journalism, it asks ‘What is crisis but an opportunity?’ and ‘Who has the right to tell whose story and for how much money?’” For scholars of language and story, the themes in Gloria correspond to our work. What stories are we telling? And are they ours to tell?

Winner of the Obie Award for Best New American Play and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award, Jacobs-Jenkins feels a need to tell stories. Gloria tells the story of work, of being what Jacobs-Jenkins calls “a desk slave” in Exeunt Magazine. In an interview with Bomb Magazine, Jacobs-Jenkins says, “I think the fiction suffered from having read The New Yorker too much…There’s a funny way black artists are made to believe they’re only capable of writing about themselves, so I was interested in trying to write a play where the authorship—or our ideas of authorship—and its ‘blackness’ is somehow swallowed up or consumed by the play itself. All the work I love is made by artists that build their house and are only the ghost of it.”

The plot of Gloria centers around the copyediting office for the culture department of a magazine. The first 50 minutes of the show feature mundane office gossip and coworker arguments. A fact-checker, Lorin, complains about the magazine: “We just write about other people to think about ourselves!” he grumbles.

Honor Murphy ’19 told me at intermission, “It was getting a little boring… so boring,” until Gloria, a seldom onstage, “weird” editor in the office shoots eight characters off stage, two characters on stage, and then herself. Murphy says that “it was a great way to mirror the experience of the people there. It was sudden.” Jacobs-Jenkins writes conversations full of microaggressions and then an unexpected act of trauma to bring to light both the passivity of violence and its existence in the midst of passivity.

The second act focuses on the response to the killings. The three survivors of the shooting all write books about their experience. They fight about whether print media should focus on the victim or the perpetrator. A publisher convinces one of Gloria’s former coworkers, Nan, to write her narrative of survival asking, “How have you never considered turning this into something?” Nan responds with, “What do you think I could get?” Conversation calls back to Lorin’s complaint that all media is an excuse to think about oneself. In the last scene he looks past the heads of the audience members and says, “It could have been any one of us.”

Bethany Catlin ’19 came to the show not knowing its content, even forgetting about the title. After realizing that the show is named after the perpetrator of the defining act of violence, she said to me, “It’s about the commodification of trauma! It’s about how people reshape their lives to what is most interesting!”

The show reminds us of the fallacy of empathy. Yes, atrocities could have happened to any of us. But our job is not to always think about ourselves. Our job is not to tell other people’s’ stories through our lives. Sometimes our job is to listen.