Dublin Theatre Festival 2018: The Patient Gloria
That’s right. On the evidence of her latest play, “The Patient Gloria,” those of a Freudian persuasion might think Gina Moxley has developed a sudden and severe case of penis envy. She seems obsessed with the things, and is never long without one in her hand. Moxley might claim she's whipping them out and waving them about in an effort to demystify them, to discover what the big deal is, if any. Exercising a need to disempower the penis, or de-misogynise it. Others might see an attempted psychological shifting of power, as opposed to a sharing of it, from the pathetic phallus to the Gloria spot. Or some other psychological issue at play requiring therapy. But whose idea of therapy are we talking about? Whose psychological frame is it that’s determining how a woman should behave and desire?
Exploring the real life experiences of thirty year-old divorcee, Gloria Szymanski, Moxley sets out to interrogate gender power dynamics through the cracked lens of psychotherapy. In 1964, Gloria agreed to participate in the making of a training film, Three Approaches to Psychotherapy, in which she was recorded while being treated separately by three eminent psychologists, Dr. Carl Rogers, Dr. Fredrick Perls, and Dr. Albert Ellis. With an impassioned and energetic Moxley playing both herself and caricatures of all three doctors, the misogyny underlining Gloria’s treatment is cleverly, and hilariously, foregrounded. A wonderful Liv O’Donoghue as Gloria gives voice to the thoughts, desires, and grievances of a woman as smart, sexy, and articulate as she imagines her doctors to be in a remarkable performance. Indeed, those only familiar with O’Donoghue as a dancer should brace themselves: O’Donoghue is a revelation and a joy.
From disappearing into sofas, to floating penises, to some superb AV design by Conan McIvor (including a resplendent sequence with O’Donoghue against waves of smoke projected behind her), “The Patient Gloria” shows a strong visual sensibility. One often steeped in 1960s retro which Andrew Clancy’s set wonderfully evokes, ably supported by Sarah Bacon’s costumes and Sinéad Wallace’s lighting. All superbly marshalled under John Mcilduff’s superb direction which goes with the Moxley flow rather than trying to resist it.
If “The Patient Gloria” uses the three recorded therapy sessions as its framework, Moxley cleverly offsets these by relating her own autobiographical experiences. While some of these experiences don’t resonate exclusively with women (men, too, often lacked basic sex education and saw lifeless marriages without the possibility of divorce as living hells), her reminiscences are primarily, and without varnish, aimed at the trials of the female lived experience. Something Moxley ingeniously conveys in a section in which young women gather around her as she remembers and relates her history to them, and, in doing so, their own history as women. The matriarch mentoring the next generation lest they forget.
Ultimately “The Patient Gloria” is not so much about Gloria as it is about Moxley. As her fellow Rough Magic alumni, Pom Boyd, did recently with the excellent Shame, Moxley gives voice to her wisdom and experiences for the benefit of the next generation. And, like Boyd, she uses music to help her do it. Courtesy of an impressive, if underused, Zoe Ní Riordáin. While “The Patient Gloria” plays directly to the third wave of feminism’s gallery, it does so by way of a wonderful theatricality, passionate delivery, and two impressive performances by Moxley and O’Donoghue.
“The Patient Gloria” by Gina Moxley, runs at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2018 until October 6.