Brideview Drama present ‘Philadelphia Here I Come’ by Brian Friel

Setting

Set in the fictional town of Ballybeg, Co.Donegal in the 1960’s.

Synopsis

Fed up with the dreary life in Ballybeg, with his uncommunicative father and his job at his father’s grocery shop, with his frustrated love for Kathy Doogan who married a richer, more successful young man and with the total absence of prospect and opportunity in his life at home, Gareth O’Donnell has accepted his aunt’s invitation to come to Philadelphia. On the eve of his departure, despite the fantasies Gar entertains of life in America, all it would take to stop him leaving would be one word of affection from his father or Kathy, or a word of genuine understanding from his friends.

Cast

Gar Public Kris Cowming
Gar Private John Stack
SB O’Donnell Sean Ahern
Madge Helen Aherne
Kate Doogan Gráinne Barry
Senator Doogan Liam Roche
Master Boyle Ted O’Brien
Lizzie Sweeney Emma Walsh
Con Sweeney Gavin Hallahan
Ben Burton Liam Roche
Ned Conor Goulding
Tom John Cullinane
Joe Eoghan Hennessy
Canon Mick O’Byrne Gavin Hallahan

Crew

Director Jack Aherne
Assistant Director Tomás Roche
Lighting Mary Aherne
Sound Emily Aherne
Stage Manager Veronica Henley
Costumes Vanessa Hyde
Set Crew James Ahern
Michael Maher
William Curley
Rosarii O’Brien
Ted O’Brien
Gavin Hallahan
James Clancy
John Roche
Ger McGrath
Frank Ryan
Jim Hyde
Props Judy Burton
Austin O’Brien
John Stack

About The Group

Brideview Drama was formed in the late 1980s by a small number of drama enthusiasts in the locality, many of whom are still active members of the group.
The group began competing in both the One-Act and Three-Act Festival Circuit in the early 90’s beginning with ‘The Year of the Hiker’ by J.B.Keane. They went from strength to strength, winning the Confined Three-Act All-Ireland in 2005 with ‘Moonshine’ by Jim Nolan.
They moved up to the Open Section in 2006 and qualified for the All-Ireland Finals for the first time in 2018 with ‘Stolen Child’, finishing in second place.

Summary of Adjudicators Comments

In her opening remarks on the first night of this year’s All-Ireland Drama Festival, Adjudicator Imelda McDonagh said all the finalists were winners but they were now on a level playing field in competing for the title of national champion.
The adjudicator noted that the work of Brian Friel, in common with playwrights such as Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter, deals with “everyday tragedies” of families who are “strangled by an inability to communicate”. First performed in 1964, Philadelphia Here I Come was described as a “tragicomedy” featuring “unarticulated feelings” and “strangled communication”.
Friel used an experimental technique of ‘Gar Public’ and ‘Gar Private’ in this play and the audience “must always be clear that this is one character”, Ms McDonagh noted, adding that there should be “seamless blending” of the two parts of this character.
Ms McDonagh described the setting as “practical and functional” with “great spaces” for the action to unfold. The adjudicator did point out some minor quibbles with the setting but, overall, the attention to detail was lauded. The “rose tinted light” when Gar and Kate are sharing a happy moment was just one aspect that was commended.
The music, with Mendelssohn featuring prominently, was both “delicate and powerful” and well woven into the action. The costumes of most of the characters reflected their “dull, uneventful lives”, apart from Kate Doogan who was dressed in “classy and fashionable” style.
Turning to the direction, Ms McDonagh said the Director (Jack Aherne) gave the audience a “fluid and energetic production” and the introduction of Gar Private was praised for the way it integrated him into the action. The pace was well varied though the adjudicator felt Act 1 could have benefited from more use of pause to highlight the rhythms of Friel’s writing. The mood changed in Act 2 and this was captured very effectively.
Moments of comedy were “well achieved” and S.B. O’Donnell’s removal of his false teeth was just one of the “comic vignettes” to be favourably mentioned. The themes of isolation, silence and frustration were powerfully conveyed as was the desperation of Gar when speaking to Kate’s father, Senator Doogan (Liam Roche).
Moving to the acting performances, Ms McDonagh felt the audience took Madge (played by Helen Aherne) to their hearts and in this “tough characterisation” various comic moments were praised, such as her use of a posh voice for the American visitors and flinging the cutlery into the drawer in annoyance at S B O’Donnell.
S.B. O’Donnell (Sean Ahern) was described as “a creature of habit” whose repetitive actions had replaced communicating through words. This characterisation was a “study in concentration” and we learned towards the end that his memories are “as flawed” as his son Gar. There was a “great rapport” on stage between John Stack (Gar Private) and Kris Cowming (Gar Public) and their interactions were “absolutely seamless”. There was “wonderful physical comedy” and their thoughts and gestures connected in a very effective manner.
The accents of the two Gars and the use of singing to “convey poignancy” were both praised. At times the “inner voice” of Gar Private was the “voice of reason” but he was also the devil on the shoulder of Gar Public. The audience saw Gar as a “country bumpkin” in the scene with Kate’s father but later in the play, we saw the depth of his anger towards Kate because their relationship didn’t work out as hoped.
In relation to some of the other characters, Kate Doogan (played by Gráinne Barry) portrayed her disappointment effectively when Gar didn’t ask for her hand. The “awkward moment” between Master Boyle (Ted O’Brien) when saying goodbye to Gar before he departs for America was highlighted favourably. Lizzie Sweeney (Emma Walsh) and her husband Con (Gavin Hallahan) were praised for showing the ironic lack of rapport between them.
As for the boys (Gar’s friends, described by Friel as “ignorant louts”), there was “unarticulated emotion” when Ned (Conor Goulding) gave Gar his belt; Tom (John Cullinane) was “gormless”; and Joe (Eoghan Hennessy) showed “a lovely sense of gullibility”. For his part, Canon
Mick O’Byrne (Gavin Hallahan) was “nicely pompous” who liked the sound of his own voice.
Overall, the adjudicator felt this production was an “absorbing and heartfelt piece of storytelling” and a “touching exposé of love and loss”.