The unpredictable debut of stage play Gloria is currently shocking audiences at the Goodman Theatre these days. The story follows a group of people working for a popular New York magazine whose frustrations create unexpected results.
Gloria made its off-Broadway opening in 2015 at the Vineyard Theater. The cast and creative team reunites to develop the show once again, including writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and director Evan Cabnet.
Most of the cast star in multiple roles, including Ryan Spahn as Dean, an unsatisfied assistant at the office. He has a strong theater background that includes Exit Strategy at Philadelphia Theatre Company, Tribes at Actors Theatre of Louisville and Stupid Kids at Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles. TV credits range from Ugly Betty to Star Trek: Voyager.
Windy City Times: Where are you from?
Ryan Spahn: I am originally from Delaware. I grew up mostly in Michigan. I was in LA for nine years before moving to where I now live in New York.
WCT: This is your first show at the Goodman?
RS: Yes, but not my first time in Chicago. I have seen a lot of theater here in Chicago and been here a lot.
WCT: Did you always study theater and want to be a part of it?
RS: Yeah. I went to Interlochen, a performing arts high school in northern Michigan. I studied acting in college at Juilliard where I met Branden and Evan. Both of them were a part of my school experience. I workshopped this play in school with Branden then met Evan who directed the final show there.
WCT: How long has Gloria been in creation?
RS: It is well over four years.
WCT: What can you tell readers about Gloria, without giving too much away?
RS: It is a play about people nearing 30 years old. They have entered the workforce assuming that they will take over the job of their boss. We live in an era where those people don't lose their jobs so we get stuck in these assistant type jobs. They hope and think their bosses will leave. When they don't, what do they do? The desperation and need to succeed manifests itself in interesting ways.
WCT: Is Gloria based on a true story?
RS: It was not. I know the writer spoke of his experience working at a magazine office. It was loosely inspired by his experience working there.
WCT: Has Gloria changed a lot since it was workshopped originally?
RS: Oh my gosh, yes. He would murder me if I told to what extent!
WCT: Was your part written for you?
RS: It was not written for me but once Branden gets his actors, he rewrites so much. The second scene that is in the play between two people was rewritten maybe 15 times while we were in previews. We would show up in the morning and be handed new dialogue, have a day to learn it, then perform it that night. It was a really intense experience.
That meant he wound up crafting the characters around you. It feels like it is written for you although it wasn't initially.
WCT: Talk about your character, Dean.
RS: I play Dean, who has been working his job for about three years too long. He is desperate to have anything happen. He's lost his dreams basically. He's hanging onto the thread that something might eventually change. Then something happens that allows for him to benefit from it or not. He has to decide what he is going to do.
WCT: Is Dean similar to you?
RS: Yeah. The play is universal because most people are stuck to a certain extent. You have to accept that is part of the human condition, even though my character fights it, and what that turns into is anyone's guess.
WCT: Dean is gay, also.
RS: Yes, but what is cool about it is that he just happens to be gay. It is not a plot point. I think we are finally entering an era where being gay is not the story of the play. It has taken so long for plays to be written about human beings and one just happens to be gay.
WCT: The show has a lot to say about different generations of workers.
RS: Yes, and all this post-Trump world. It has been interesting revisiting this play. When we did it in New York Trump wasn't a word we were saying and now he is the president. He succeeded on monopolizing and benefiting from social media with putting quick quips out there even at the detriment of others. I think there are elements of that in this play with people profiting off of things that maybe should not be profited off of. Society is clearly celebrating that these days. Before that wasn't something we thought people admired, but now we see they do.
WCT: Were the emotional scenes challenging for you?
RS: No. The challenging part was the lines in the rewrites, which didn't happen here.
In Chicago, it has been dealing with the size of the space. The play is dealing with people feeling congested but this stage is double the size we had. We don't have that inherent sense of congestion. We had to find out what that means for a play like this.
WCT: Did you meet [partner] Michael Urie when you were both on Ugly Betty?
RS: No. I met him through mutual friends. It took two years of people trying to set us up on blind dates. One time after both of those didn't happen, we met by accident on the street. That was eight and a half years ago.
WCT: Congrats. I noticed you have traveled a lot for theater.
RS: I get a lot of remounts, which means I have to agree to do the workshop production in other towns. I did a play that started here called Exit Strategy at the Jackalope Theatre a few years ago. I saw it here when I was watching Michael do Buyer & Cellar. I wrote to them and told them to let me know if anyone is doing it in New York, because I loved it. One of the producers of Buyer & Cellar brought it to Philadelphia and New York, where I was in it. Sometimes, the job starts out of town.
WCT: Is the play Daniel's Husband, on your resume, a gay play?
RS: It is. We did the play at the Penguin Rep Theatre. It explores gay marriage when one person doesn't want to be forced to do it. He has spent his whole life accepting that he won't be married and now he has to. He is pressured to do it.
WCT: Is Gloria going on after this run at the Goodman?
RS: We don't know yet. It was brought from New York to Chicago and we will see what happens next.
WCT: What are your plans after this?
RS: I am a writer for a show that my partner Michael is the host of at Logo called Cocktails & Classics. Season four begins airing in March.
WCT: What movies will be covered on the show this season?
RS: We've got Hairspray, Showgirls, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Sister Act one, and two.
WCT: You have had some fun guests on that show in the past, such as RuPaul's Drag Race's Shangela.
RS: It is cool because we have Shangela in drag but also D.J. Pierce, outside of drag, which is important to him. He likes to be known as more than one personality.
Gloria glows at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., currently until Sunday, Feb. 19. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org for ticket information and show times.
See related coverage at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/THEATER-REVIEW-Gloria-/57966.html .