“None of us could touch it,” Gina Moxley says about the squishy rubber penis she spends her mornings swinging round the Traverse stage. “We were hysterical at first. Now it’s just like, 'this old thing?'”
The Patient Gloria, which Moxley wrote and stars in, is all about dicks. She laughs: “My intention is not emasculation but it is taking the piss on a fairly grand level.”
The play is based on Three Approaches to Psychotherapy, the 1965 recordings of sessions between a patient named Gloria and three different psychotherapists. Moxley’s play puts her own life alongside the patient’s, with Liv O’Donoghue playing Gloria. Through the two intersecting narratives, with meta nods and sideways smiles, the show unpicks exploitation, desire and control.
Moxley performs in swaggering drag as the three therapists—Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis and Fritz Perls—each of whom has their own artificial penis. “Why would I have men playing them?” she says after the show one morning. “I think we have to do this ourselves.” Is it performing as a man that gives the part power, or undercutting it as a woman? “It’s a double whammy. It feels very powerful for us women to be on stage, saying what we're saying,” she pauses and tumbles into her barking laugh, “and having a dick in your hand while you're saying it.”
Alongside Moxley and O’Donoghue, Jane Deasy lends the piece some harmonic fury on bass guitar. “That was the music I left home to,” Moxley says. “It was the only music with women doing fuck off stuff.” She wanted the punk-rock attitude to feed into the play. “I think there's a real danger of women being dismissed because of anger.” But both she, and the show, are furious. “Sweetly furious,” Moxley corrects.
The tapes were recorded for the purpose of being shown in schools and colleges, which Gloria agreed to. What she did not consent to was for them to be shown on TV and in cinemas. “It's like the beginning of reality TV, what they did, like Jeremy Kyle. They don’t give a sugar what the consequences are for the person.” In spite of how old-fashioned and arguably unprofessional the therapists in the tapes are—one of them comes onto Gloria—they’re still idolised within the profession, and the films are still used as teaching tools. “It’s cultish.”
Performing the show at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 2018 was a particularly potent start for this production, after the Waking the Feminists “hoohah”—as Moxley calls it—in 2015, where women revolted against the theatre’s pathetic gender parity. It brought about a change in the artistic leadership and, after a bit of work, this play. They reclaimed their power.
Power is something Moxley has felt fading over the years. “As an actor, in film particularly, I'm always at a funeral or bringing in tea. There hasn’t been one single smart thing I’ve been asked to do.” Certainly nothing sexy. “Unless I write it.”
In this play, she has written her own experiences of shame and harassment, as well as talking candidly about menopausal desire. One of the most moving lines is the show is an offhand comment she made about having grown up with an abortion fund. When I ask her about it she shrugs. “We had to travel if you became pregnant, in secret, at short notice, so people, if they could, would have that in their back pocket in case you had to leg it.”
“I think it was the first or second show this really straight older woman, like late seventies, was sitting down the front. She was eyeing me and I’m thinking sweet Jesus.” She clamps her hands to the chair and leans forwards. “Then all during the show she kept going”—she pumps her fist in the air once—“yes!”—twice—“‘yes!’ out loud.” She puts her hand on her heart and smiles.
During the show, Moxley shares her experiences with a group of younger women. “It made sense that you're passing knowledge on to the next generation.” She also shares pieces of advice both of her parents have given her. “Oh god,” she wheezes a laugh when I ask for her own advice, “this is why I don’t have children.” She thinks for a minute before whispering the words conspiratorially. “Be in charge of your own purse. Never depend on anyone for money. You don’t have to ask for permission for anything, and then you don’t get involved with things because you can’t afford not to.” That’s one. “Read and listen to people.” Two. “Jesus.” She grins, and gives her third piece of advice. “Have sex.”