By Sarah Downs
In the early 60s, therapy hit the mainstream. It came out of the closet, as it were, in all its sexist glory. We had the hysterical female, the frigid female, the oversexed female, the neurotic female — basically the female, not so much a sex as a diagnosis.
As with everything else in culture and society, in the therapeutic world women’s thoughts and emotions have been viewed historically through the lens of masculine preconceptions. It has been a veritable hotbed of misconstruction. “Seen” thusly through the male gaze, women are not the agents of our own lives, but the subject of patronizing, ignorant ‘analysis’, and the object of male projection. I mean, it’s not women who invented the madonnna/wh*re complex.
In her delightfully irreverent play The Patient Gloria, writer and performer Gina Moxley takes aim at those preconceptions, joyously dissecting the patriarchy with in-your-face abandon. Brilliant, funny and subversive, The Patient Gloria is an edgy satire of misogyny with a dash of punk rock thrown in.
The play dramatizes The Gloria Films (originally entitled Three Approaches to Psychotherapy), a 1965 film series in which Gloria Szymanski, an American divorced mother with a young daughter allowed herself to be filmed in individual therapy sessions with three separate therapists from different schools of thought: Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and Albert Ellis (whose book The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Man Hunting sounds like a must read.) Her own therapist had sold Gloria on the idea assuring her the films would only be used in an educational setting, only to release them on television and in movie theaters. He just assumed he could get away with this betrayal, and he did.
As Gloria, Liv O’Donoghue shows us the intelligent, vulnerable, funny woman these men betrayed. Lithe and elegant in her pitch perfect pink dress with its sweet piping and full skirt, O’Donoghue uses her long limbs to great effect in a sinuous dance of gesture. Moxley plays all three therapists, in hilarious characterizations which are nonetheless biting and direct. She also takes stage as herself, alternating the reenactments of the films with stories from her own youth in 1970’s Ireland, (“The glory days of domestic violence, drunken driving, child abuse and cockeyed Catholicism.”)
Moxley charms effortlessly, even in the throes of caricature. Her wantonness opens the doors to broader satire, and her use of language intoxicates. “Jesus, the deafening thrummmmm of unbridled, slithery carnality, of boldness, of smartness and couldn’t give a f*ckness.” Moxley puts it out there, up front, as it were, with various prop versions of the salient appendage that most concisely embodies male power; that great synecdoche of masculinity.
Andrew Clancy’s simple set evokes the convergence of separate spaces, a vintage therapist’s office, the real Gloria films, and the world outside the therapeutic chamber. Projections of the actual film on the back curtain fracture, appropriately enough, along the vertical lines of the curtain’s folds. Beautiful whimsical animations by Conan McIvor, in shades of pink and crimson add a subtle bit of snark to the storytelling. We stand at the convergence of many spaces – films of real Gloria, onstage Gloria reliving the therapy sessions, and both Gloria and Moxley moving in and out of the action to address the audience. Jane Deasy’s music completes the picture. With songs like the oh-so-satisfying “Sh*tlist” and, in a surprising turn, a remarkably tender version the Beach Boys’ tune “In My Room, Deasy is both participant and framework.
In its searing indictment of a betrayal that points out the baseness of patriarchy and entitlement, The Patient Gloria could not be more timely. The dire life and death consequences of women being denied agency over our own lives cannot be overstated. After all, it’s we whose lives hang in the balance. Gina Moxley seizes the moment with much needed cathartic humor and intelligence.
The Patient Gloria, written by Gina Moxley, directed by John McIlduff. Featuring Jane Deasy (the punk rocker), Gina Moxley and Liv O’Donoghue. Choreographed by Liv O’Donoghue, set design by Andrew Clancy, costume design by Sarah Bacon, sound design by Adam Welsh, lighting design by Sinéad Wallace, A/V design by Conan McIvor.
At St. Ann’s Warehouse (Brooklyn Bridge Park | 45 Water Street, dumbo BKLYN) November 16th – December 4th. For tickets go to: www.stannswarehouse.org or call the Box Office: 718-254-8779
Runtime 75 minutes with no intermission. Please note strong language and comical puppet versions of the male phallus are used throughout the show.