Review: The Patient Gloria, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

“Can you see me” asks Gina Moxley, cheekily taking centre stage before she leisurely fashions a make -shift penis using only tights and bird seed. It is not the first time we’ve seen some dicks on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe , but perhaps  never as clearly as in Gina Moxley’s thrilling The Patient Gloria at the Traverse Theatre.

Inspired by 1965 Three Approaches to Psychotherapy, an ‘educational’ film made of Gloria Szymanski’s real-life counselling sessions with three different therapists, The Patient Gloria is an explosive commentary on the male therapeutic gaze and the nature of female desire. Dressed in sparklingly gold heels, Moxley plays  these three esteemed psychotherapists to Liv O’Donoghue’s chain smoking and recently divorced Gloria. The patient feels guilty, as do all Irish women apparently. Her nine-year-old daughter has asked her if she’s been to bed with a man other than her father and she , of course, has lied. In three dazzling sequences, we run a kind of gamut of male exploitative behaviour. These men are at turns fathers, sometimes aggressors, and, eventually, predators. Gloria becomes elusive. Who is she? It is impossible to know as in each therapy session she appears differently, depending on who is interviewing her.

The play seems deliberately rough around the edges. It’s unapologetically meta-theatrical. Moxley, it seems, is not messing around. There are frequent, blunt asides. “I understand” she says to the boys in the audience while swinging a prosthetic penis in the air, “it’s so hard to let go”. Oh yes, “not all men” she concedes. “No” she says, to any wounded males in the audience,  we’re not talking about you, get over yourself, we are talking about a system. 

Peppered throughout  with edgy and ironic humour,  Jane Deasy – on stage and playing electric bass – is nonchalantly hilarious in her occasional interjections and support. At times, Moxley interrupts the therapy sessions to speak about her own autobiographical experiences. At first this seems like deviation – until we remember how recently these shocking episodes occurred and how, until last year’s referendum on the eighth amendment and the introduction of abortion services in Ireland, the uterus was actually legislated for by the Irish government. Gloria’s experiences seem way too close for comfort.  

Moxley has been tearing up the Irish theatre scene for decades, unapologetically cracking open vital and urgent stories, daring to  suggest alternative kinds of narratives and, God preserve us, a different kind of perspective on the inner lives of Irish women. If any of this sounds preachy, it’s not. It’s irreverent and funny and flippant and sad. The ending would almost be cheesy were it not so overwhelmingly hopeful. An Irish play with a hopeful ending? Is this Moxley’s real coup? There are attempts here to answer complex questions, and even if some questions are left unanswered,  there is a suggestion that the next generation (poignantly realised in the additional ensemble members who appear towards the play’s close) will find a way past the trauma. They can see her, even if we can’t.

The Patient Gloria is playing at the Traverse Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25 August 2019. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh Fringe Festival website.