Fictional town of Ballybeg
Philadelphia Here I Come is a 1964 play written by Brian Friel. It centres around Gareth (Gar) O’Donnell’s proposed move to America. Gar is portrayed by two characters, Gar Public (the Gar that people see, talk to and talk about) and Gar Private (the unseen man, the man within, the conscience).It’s essentially about exile—the exile of emigration, the exile of emotional disconnect, the exile of choosing security over love and the exile of living fantasy rather than reality.
|Madge Mulhern||Maura Farrelly|
|Public Gareth (Gar) O’Donnell||Derek O’Reilly|
|Private Gareth (Gar) O’Donnell||Charles McGuinness|
|S B O’Donnell||Raymond Hackett|
|Kate Doogan||Grace Kelly|
|Senator Doogan||Jim Williamson|
|Master Boyle||Brian Reilly|
|Lizzy Sweeney||Taragh Donohoe|
|Con Sweeney||Sean McIntyre|
|Ben Burton||Joe McManus|
|Mick O’Byrne||Brian Reilly|
|Stage Manager||Taragh Donohoe|
|Stage Crew||Barry Nash|
|Assist Lighting||Ailish Farrelly|
|Set Design||Philip McIntyre|
|Photography, Poster and Programme Design||Tony Fahy|
|PRO and Website||Ronan Ward|
About The Group
The Corn Mill Theatre has been competing on the festival circuit since the early 1970’s, initially under the name Carrigallen Community Players. They have won the All Ireland Drama Final in Athlone on three occasions: in 1998 with ‘Belfry’ by Billy Roche, directed by Killian McGuinness; in 2005 with ‘Stolen Child’ by Yvonne Quinn and Bairbre Ní Chaoimh, directed by Seamus O’Rourke; and in 2014 with The Devil’s Céilí ’ by Philip Doherty & Kevin McGahern, directed by Ronan Ward.
Summary of Adjudicator’s Comments
In his introductory remarks, Festival Adjudicator Geoff O’Keeffe recalled that he directed a finalist (‘The Great Hunger’) in the All Ireland Drama Festival some years ago and noting that it didn’t win, he quipped: “That’s adjudicators for you!”
“I know the blood, sweat and tears that go into putting on a play here, I’ve been that trooper,” he said, adding that in this year’s festival, he’s looking for a play that will take him to “another place”.
Mr O’Keeffe said ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come’ catapulted Brian Friel to international acclaim – the use of a character with a public and private self allowing him to explore the stifling mundanity of everyday life in a small village. The play explores “unarticulated feelings” and how “intimacy between men is something to be embarrassed about”. Friel himself said the play was as much about love as emigration, O’Keeffe noted.
The adjudicator said the play presents challenges such as the need for a “symbiotic relationship” between the public and private Gar, and the requirement to balance pathos with comedy.
The set was described as “refreshing” and “imaginative” and it responded well to the mood of the play. The use of “various levels” provided really strong spaces for the actors which were “utilised very well” and congratulations were extended to set designer Philip McIntyre.
Referring to a glitch with the lighting on the night, Mr O’Keeffe said there was “a bit of bother” but said such things happen in live theatre. Just before the lighting tripped, the adjudicator felt the actors weren’t quite “in the moment” but the lighting put “the fear of God in them” and they got right back into the moment and “recovered so well”. Overall, the lighting was “used well to illuminate the actors” and at times it had a “sepia quality to it”.
The use of intro sounds (“giving us a sense of place”) and the ticking clock were praised. The costumes were described as “really appropriate” and the adjudicator liked the decision to use different costumes for public and private Gar.
Mr O’Keeffe praised director Killian McGuinness for the way he moved the actors around the stage. He said the scene featuring the visit to Senator Doogan’s house was a “little blip” but, overall, it was a “really clever and imaginative production”. There were “lively characterisations” and “lovely pointed lines” from Madge and pathos was achieved in such moments as the lads not knowing how to say goodbye to Gar.
He felt the final scene between Gar and his father (S.B. O’Donnell) “could have been slightly more devastating” – but Madge’s final monologue was “crafted with skill”.
Turning to the acting performances, Mr O’Keeffe said the audience probably wanted to lift up Madge (Maura Farrelly) and give her a hug. She carried out her role with “wonderful physicality” and it was a performance that had “so many layers”.
Gar Public (Derek O’Reilly) “brought a lot to the role” with a “very centred performance” that conveyed sadness, regret and loneliness. Gar Private (Charles McGuinness) had “a great stage presence” and he infused the role with a lot of energy but also with sadness when needed.
Ray Hackett in the role of the “uncommunicative father” (S.B. O’Donnell) was praised for an “unsentimental characterisation” where “nothing was forced”.
Brian Reilly (who played Master Boyle and Canon Mick O’Byrne) was highly commended for “producing something really special”. His role as Master Boyle was “a beautifully realised characterisation” and he superbly conveyed the sadness and emptiness felt this character.
Jim Williamson was praised for “a good cameo role” as Senator Doogan, while Grace Kelly (Kate Doogan) carried out her role “very well”. Taragh Donohoe had “a good stage presence” as Lizzy Sweeney, whom Con Sweeney (Sean McIntyre) had the task of listening to blathering on.
Ned (played by Stephen Grey) had “a lovely brashness” about him but this was tempered by his efforts to try to reach out to Gar. Ronan Ward played the role of Tom (something of a “lapdog” for Ned), while there was “a lovely innocence” about Joe (played by Larry O’Halloran), described as “a small role played really well”.
Overall, this production was commended as “visually engaging” theatre that conveyed sadness and humour. And while there might have been an occasional dip in energy, the adjudicator, in a reference to the lighting glitch, said the Corn Mill Theatre Company “certainly brought us back into the light”.