Lola Rose’s blog: Review of Philadelphia, Here I Come

philadelphia, here I come


‘Philadelphia, Here I Come’ is a play set in Ireland, which has been performed at many local theatres throughout Scotland and a variety of well-known theatres across the U.K. including The Donmar Warehouse in London . The play was also converted into a film which became extremely successful in the mid-70s, 10 years after the play was first published.

Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Philadelphia, Here I Come, by Brian Friel, published in 1965, is a tragi-comic play in which the action takes place over a single 24-hour period. Amongst the issues which it deals with are emigration and the strained nature of familial relations. Despite the suggestion of its title it is the latter that is at the centre of the author’s concerns. The main character, Gar O’Donnell, is seeking to leave his hometown, the imaginary Ballybeg, in order to escape the tensions of family life (particularly his relations with his father). Whilst societal issues are raised, key to an understanding of the play is the tense relationship between Gar and his father. To convey this tension Friel uses the Aristotelian technique of fixing the action within a confined period of time and the unique dramatic device of having the main character, Gar, who is on stage throughout the action, played by two actors who present different aspects of his character. These are: ‘Gar Private’ , who reveals the character’s true thoughts and emotions to the audience but not to his fellow players (to whom he is invisible); and ‘Gar Public’, whose emotions are far more limited but are revealed to the other characters. All this is staged deliberately by Friel so that Private Gar can remain private and in order to generate humour, as Private Gar gently teases his more limited public persona. It also facilitates the exploration of the key issues that divide Gar from other key characters, notably his father (S.B. O’Donnell), Gar’s former partner Katie and Madge the housekeeper.

In the opening stage directions it is stated that “The two Gars, Public Gar and Private Gar, are two views of the one man.” Public Gar lacks confidence in himself and is overly sensitive to what others think of him and, consequently, although he has antagonisms towards his father and his former partner, Katie, he fails to stand up for himself. Private Gar, in contrast, has a more cynical point of view and a sharper tongue (perhaps because he knows that no-one else can actually hear or see him). It is clear for example that the two Gars have a very different opinion of Katie. Public Gar blames himself for the breakdown of their relationship, whereas Private Gar blames Katie:

Public Gar(softly): Kate… sweet Katie Doogan… my darling Kathy Doogan…

Private Gar(in same soft tone): Aul Bitch. (loudly) Rotten aul snobby bitch!

Public Gar: No, no; my fault – all my fault –

On the other hand, both Gars wish to make the journey to America and seek a better way of life. After all they are not separate characters but aspects of the same character.

It is clear throughout the play that the main issue affecting Gar is the conflicted between him and his father. Their emotionless relationship introduces the theme of their lack of communication.  The tension between Gar and his father reaches its climax in a key scene where Gar reminds S.B. of a cherished childhood memory, asking him about  “the fishing we used to do on Lough na Cloc Cor”. This memory is shattered when Gar’s father cannot recall the fishing trip. This ends in Gar saying “It doesn’t matter. Forget it.” Friel then uses the second character, Private Gar, to reveal just how distraught Gar truly is. The lack of affection between father and son is established and we might expect Gar to lose any lingering doubts with regard to emigrating, however,  even by the last lines of the play Gar appears uncertain:

Private Gar: God, Boy, why do you have to leave? Why? Why?

Public Gar: I don’t know. I – I – I don’t know.

Friel uses Gars second self, Private Gar, to adumbrate his extremely mixed feelings about his ex-partner, Katie Doogan, also known as Kathy. She is of a significantly elevated social class from a respected family with money and status. In contrast Gar is from a mercantile class and is not in a position to offer what she has been used to.

By using a split character throughout the play we are shown two characters who have extremely divided views of the other’s thoughts. Gar Private uses his unheard conversations with Gar Public to accentuate the bitterness of Gar’s true feelings towards Katie in quite an insulting manner. In a key scene where Public Gar reminisces about Katie and he discussing plans together for their later life, Katie asks Gar how they would survive financially saying “How will we live?” Gar responds “like Lords!” This shows that Gar has an unrealistic understanding of their relationship, saying that she and their “14 children” can survive from the money that he makes selling eggs. This is the beginning of the end of their relationship. Yet, Katie must have some hope for a future with Gar, as she proposes that they go to her father so that Gar can ask his permission to marry her. Shockingly for Gar the conversation with Kate’s father reveals that there is another eminently more fitting, suitor for Katie. Francis King, a doctor, is the rival, who makes Gar pale into insignificance.

Thus Gars ego and id (in Freudian terms) are exposed. The way he presents himself to the world is not the man he truly is. Ultimately we are led to understand that his flight to Philadelphia is not a flight from poverty nor from his farther nor his failed love: it is a flight from himself.

Lola Rose.

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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