Ninety years ago, the British economist John Maynard Keynes forecast that by now, thanks to technological advances, we would all be working fifteen-hour weeks. Instead, we are drowning in work – much of it unnecessary – to the point of existential despair. According to recent studies in Britain and the Netherlands, almost half of us feel our jobs contribute nothing of value to the world.
Young American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s 2015 comedy-drama Gloria is set against the backdrop of this keenly felt corporate ennui – fecund comic ground for such era-defining television shows as The Office. Here, though, the alienation of white-collar workers from their labour and one another is given its full, tragic dimension in the shape of another peculiarly contemporary phenomenon: the mass shooting.
Jacobs-Jenkins’s petri dish is the culture section of a storied magazine based in Manhattan (its resemblance to The New Yorker, where the playwright was once employed as an editorial assistant, is unmistakable). Subeditors Dean (Jordan Fraser-Trumble), Ani (Jane Harber), and Kendra (Aileen Huynh) are approaching thirty. Having sought something, anything, to do after college, they find themselves trapped in spiritually enervating jobs, their aspirations – Dean, for example, is looking to publish a memoir – thwarted by the daily grind. Archly competitive and self-centred, they are model products of late capitalism. They fight like cats in a sack, all too aware of their slim leverage within an industry that is pitiless by nature and besieged by circumstance. While not exactly cruel, none, except sensitive intern Miles (Callan Colley), has any compunction about selling the others down the river in the pursuit of real or perceived career advantage. Their microaggression-filled banter, portending the tragedy to come with its allusions to hostages and terrorists – not to mention its offhand death threats – zips back and forth with a colourful ferocity reminiscent of David Mamet (Jacobs-Jenkins is also fond of, and adept at, the kind of screed-like monologues beloved of American television writers like Aaron Sorkin.)