“The Patient Gloria” is inspired (if that’s the right word) by a film that some see as a breakthrough; others as a betrayal. In 1964, a recently divorced woman named Gloria Szymanski consented to be filmed as a patient in three single psychotherapy sessions with different well-known practitioners each with his own distinct school of treatment, for what she was told would be a training film for students. To her surprise, “Three Approaches to Psychotherapy,” which came to be called “The Gloria Films,” was presented on television, and in movie houses; it is still available on YouTube.
“The Patient Glory,” written and performed by Gina Moxley, offers its own three approaches:
1. A dramatization of the film, with Moxley portraying the three psychotherapists and Liv O’Donoghue as Gloria.
2. A funny, crude, loud fringe show (which was presented as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), with singer and electric bass player Jane Deasy ripping into such rock anthems as “In My Room” by the Beach Boys and “Shitlist” by L7 and of course Van Morrison’s “Gloria.”
3. A thought-provoking meditation on, and personal memoir of, misogyny.
Moxley recites some lines verbatim from the film, as she portrays the three eminent psychologists — Carl Rogers, promoter of people-centered therapy, Frederick Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, and Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Therapy. She also offers some brief biographical tidbits meant to explain their approaches.
Her portrayals are distinct and largely effective even as they are riddled with caricature and shtick. At one point, the sexual tension is made ludicrously explicit, when Dr. Rogers dives between Gloria’s legs, and disappears. At another point, slightly more subtle, Dr. Ellis uses a metaphor to persuade Gloria not to let her insecurity about one aspect of her life undermine her overall self-assessment: “Say you had a mangled arm. And you wouldn’t accept the good parts of you because of this mangled arm. You’re letting the bad bit of you be all of you. All you see is manglement….” Which seems sensible advice – except all along Moxley is wildly gyrating her mangled arm like a circus performer.
All of the eminent men come off as too cocksure – an adjective I haven’t chosen randomly. As the play begins, we see Moxley sewing something – which turns out to be a penis. She creates a different one for each therapist, which supposedly sums them up – one is flaccid made of cloth, one is a drone that flies over the stage (“It represents a huge part of the budget. We had a lot of explaining to do with our funders…”)
This is not the only use in the show of dicks, as she refers to them. Gina, speaking as herself, offers an extended monologue on the times that men exposed themselves to her, starting from when she was very young.
In another monologue, which feels like a companion, Moxley recalls personal memories growing up in Ireland that feel like an inventory of ignorance and misogyny (“I don’t remember anyone ever talking to us as young women about enjoying sex. It was all avoidance and warnings…” and “I remember ads for women’s health clinics being blanked out of imported UK magazines.”)
This pairing of the serious and the silly, the pointed and the profane might not work for everybody. But there is a moment near the end of “The Patient Gloria” that casually sneaks into view and then its relevance hits you like a hammer. “I’m glad I just have an X and Y in my name and not in my pants,” Gina Moxley says, then calls the latest penis a “teaching tool” and advises about men: “Don’t trust what they get up to together behind closed drawers. Before you know it they’re legislating their way into our uteruses.”
The Patient Gloria
St. Ann’s Warehouse through December 4, 2022
Running time: 75 minutes
Written by Gina Moxley
Directed by John McIlduff
Choreography by Liv O’Donoghue
Set design by Andrew Clancy, lighting design by Sinead Wallace, costume design by Sarah Bacon, sound design by Adam Walsh,AV design by Conor McIver
Cast: Gina Moxley, Liv O’Donoghue, Jane Deasy