From left: Zack Roundy, Patrick A. Jackson, Jen Chia and Kristin Shirilla in GLORIA at Mad Cow Theatre in Orlando, FL. Detail of a photo by Tom Hurst.
By Keenan Carver
Brevard Culture Theater Critic
In its quest to produce compelling plays, Mad Cow Theatre brings to its stage the Obie Award winning play “GLORIA”, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. An evocative, funny, and honest piece, “GLORIA” is about assistants of a notorious Manhattan magazine whose day-to-day monotony is shattered by a disgruntled coworker.
Jacobs-Jenkins’ “GLORIA” is a dark comedy about a much too common tragic event, which occurs in the first act. The play delves deep into the emotions of survivors’ in the short second act then pops back into dark humor in the final scene.
After act one’s intense ending, you would expect the second act to drag. Yet as he did before with his highly celebrated play “An Octoroon,” here, Jacobs-Jenkins’ story continues with the same provocative, witty banter and an ever unfolding plot. Along with cast members playing multiple roles, Mad Cow’s “Gloria” makes for a mesmeric night of theater.
Characterization is vital, and Mad Cow Theatre’s cast of actors are dynamic together, each having their individual stand-out moments.John Hamilton Rice brings a captivating quality to the role of Lorin, the magazine’s fact checker, and anchors the story as the only actor who remains the same character throughout the entirety of the show.
Jen Chia (Kendra/Jenna) gets to play fun, assertive characters. Her role of the office assistant Kendra, a fast talking, annoying millennial, is described by the playwright as a “rich Asian girl with a degree from Harvard.” She is easily a show favorite as her character is set up in first act, pushed aside and when she comes back in second act, seems less of an antagonist and more of a victim.
A favorite local actor, Zack Roundy (Dean/Devin) brings his distinct quirkiness to his two characters. As he’s done in previous roles, especially as Vince in “Tape” and Treat in “Orphans,” Roundy finds his character’s unique oddities and quirks, which really intensify his performances. The drunken Dean is an entire tragedy, meticulously drawn, and in stark contrast from Devin, the goofy IT guy in the final scene.As the meek Gloria, Sarah E. Mathews drips of trouble. Mathews, who had previously performed with Mad Cow years ago in many productions including the highly acclaimed “The Laramie Project” and “Candida, ” easily slips into a straightforward character of Nan, the editor in chief.
Dominating not two, but three characters, are Equity actor Patrick A. Jackson (Miles/Shawn/Rashad) and the dazzling Kristin Shirilla (Ani/Sasha/Callie).
Jackson, a graduate of Morehouse College, plays the sweet intern Miles, the snippy barista Shawn, and the self-absorbed young boss Rashad. Jackson’s energy, focus, and strong stage presence makes him a perfect addition to the cast.
Shirilla is bound to have every audience in stitches from laughter. From the young intellect Ani, to the Valley-girl Sasha and pushy Callie, Shirilla indeed has solid comedic timing.Director Mark Edward Smith does well with the staging of the play. The back and forth office banter is clever, and familiar to those who have spent hours under those same fluorescent lights with the same people.
Scenic designer Cliff Price creates an intimate, light, and adaptable setting in Mad Cow’s small black box theater. The setting is complete with cubicles, frosted glass office doors and a corridor leading to a hall.
Jacobs-Jenkins truly has a gem of play, and is well worth seeing on the Zehngebot-Stonerock black box theatre at Mad Cow.
SIDE O’ GRITS: GLORIA runs through March 10 at Mad Cow Theatre, Tickets are $42. Discounts available for students and military. There is a discount night 8 p.m. March 6 with tickets at $25. Call 407.297.8788 or visit MadCowTheatre.com.