Director Eric Ting on Gloria (Part Two)

By Claire L. Wong

A champion of new works, Eric Ting has directed such world-premiere productions as Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present a Presentation... (2012; Obie Award) to Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap (2018) and The 1491s’ Between Two Knees (2019). This passion for new works is evident in Ting’s continued collaboration with his longtime friend and Gloria playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Ting previously directed two works by Jacobs-Jenkins, Appropriate (2015), a drama about an American family with contentious secrets, and An Octoroon (2017), a Brechtian critique of the portrayal of race in theater.

In Gloria, as in An Octoroon and Appropriate, there are layers to be uncovered in the subject matter of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays and the bold way that the playwright confronts his audience. “Are these stories trying to shock us or make sense of shock?” asks the director. Ting’s excellence in unraveling his friend’s stories at each layer has made him a trusted interpreter of Jacobs-Jenkins’s work, a partnership that continues with A.C.T.’s 2020 production of Gloria.

Director Eric Ting snaps a photo with the cast of A.C.T.'s 2020 production of Gloria. Photo by Simon Hodgson.

Gloria begins with a comedic first act, but it gets dark even before the central event. It feels like one story turns into another.
Tonally and structurally, it begins as a comedy and then, yes, there’s this growing anxiety that might catch you off guard; and then there’s the central trauma and we’re thrust into this whole different space. The Starbucks café acts as a liminal space between the two offices in Act One and Act Two, between the two coasts of New York and Los Angeles. The moment of trauma carves out a before and after. I’ve been thinking about how Lorin is finding his way back. Maybe “back” is not the right word because you can’t go backward from trauma. It’s about returning to a space where he’s no longer a victim of the event.

Comedy seems to serve as common ground or an entry point into the deeper layers of the play.
What the characters are arguing about feel like such minor quibbles, and that’s part of what’s funny about it, and also weirdly nostalgic. I’ve been thinking about how the play feels like a dialogue with nostalgia—the event of the first act feels like a moment of time that you’ll never be able to access again.

Actors Melanie Arii Mah and Lauren English in rehearsal for A.C.T.'s Gloria. Photo by Simon Hodgson.

These office spaces will hold a lot of memory then?
I tend to believe we hold memory in objects. We have all these memories, but they often require some trigger—a photograph or an old toy whose smell we remember—to access them. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Gloria is haunted by such things.

You talked about this idea of tragedy as a pivot, creating a before-and-after moment. How are nostalgia and trauma related?
I think nostalgia can be seen as a coping mechanism for trauma, wanting to understand how the event happened. I don’t know if the play itself is wrestling with nostalgia, but as I’m reading it as a witness to the story, as an audience member, I keep coming back to this notion that when we get into the liminal space of the Starbucks, these characters are wrestling with the before and the after. They really are in the after and they don’t know where they are anymore. In the before, there was a sense of location and there was a sense of “This is where I’m heading.” Now? There’s just trying to make sense of it.

This interview is excerpted from the Gloria issue of Words on Plays. Want to read more? Order your copy here. Gloria is onstage at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater starting February 13. Click here for tickets!

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