Staring far into the distance, with a cigarette loosely in hand, Gloria seems a little low. After her divorce, the 30-year-old has begun dating again, but she’s worried what her young daughter will think.
In 1964, Gloria Szymanski allowed her counselling sessions with three different psychotherapists to be filmed for an educational film called Three Approaches to Psychotherapy. The producers betrayed her and gave it a public release as The Gloria Films.
That’s certainly deserved of a cutting response like Gina Moxley’s new co-production with the Abbey Theatre, in association with Pan Pan, which recreates the exposing psychotherapy sessions as an arch piece of contemporary theatre. In perhaps the bawdiest performance you’ll find this year, Moxley plays the parts of the three psychotherapists (using all of their parts). Penis envy has hardly had such a beating.
Occupying a stage curtained as a shrink’s office, Gloria (a soft-spoken Liv O’Donoghue) discusses her motherly guilt with the three councillors. The first, Carl Rogers, uselessly repeats her words back to her, chuffed with his own responses. Fritz Perls aggressively believes in discussing only non-verbal communication. Albert Ellis, with almost lecherous enthusiasm, advises Gloria to have more sex. Nearby, musician Zoe Ní Riordáin undermines the psychotherapists’ character, revealing unethical engagements with patients and preoccupations with nymphomania and curing homosexuality.
Moxley’s play makes some gains in exposing the misogyny behind The Gloria Films but it’s in danger of being overpowered by her own acrid performance. Darkly comic observations, such as a grandmother defecating herself during a heart attack, make the production difficult to map. Is this a finely drawn subversive piece of theatre or a difficult-to-hear polemic?
You can definitely see how that rage could be justified, as Moxley gives her own shocking accounts of shame and harassment. But director John McIlduff’s production is at its best during its wry effects, such as the glimpse of Gloria’s repressed desire in O’Donoghue’s tumbling gestures against the blaring sound of a passing train.
At some turns, the play seems to contradict itself. A cast of young players arrive, after we’re told they’ve been dropped. By the end Gloria even admits she’s exhausted from being discussed, making you wonder what’s the point of it all?
The clatter of this feminist theatre is certainly a strength, but it feels in need of more treatment.
The Patient Gloria is on at Abbey Theatre until 6th October. More info here.