By David Walters

It’s 1962 in the very small Irish town of Ballybeg where no one says what they’re really thinking. Gareth’s (Gar) (David McElwee) mother died soon after childbirth and he was raised by a father that not only didn’t show his feeling, but factually didn’t speak much. Gar, now 25, works in his father’s (Ciarán O’Reilly) dry goods store and their relationship has devolved into one of boss and employee. It’s the eve of Gar’s departure for America to go live with his aunt (fabulous scene-stealer Deirdre Madigan) and he’s scared of what the future will bring, which makes him second-guess his decision to go, and this pre-travel night finds him clinging to the scraps of the life he had, even though he can see it will lead to nowhere. And at the same time he’s bouncing off the walls imagining what his new life could be.

“I’ve stuck around this hole far too long. I’m telling you, it’s a bloody quagmire, a backwater, a dead-end! And everybody in it goes crazy sooner or later! Everybody!”

Even though he’s like his father in may ways, Gar searches diligently to make a connection with his father before he leaves as his father is the only family that he’s ever known.

In a place where no one speaks, playwright Brian Friel, has created the characters of Public Gar and Private Gar (the delightful A.J. Shively) to vocalize and visualize the inner workings of his protagonist. Private Gar is a shadow to Public Gar expressing the things he wishes he could say and urging him on when he tries to express what’s inside himself. It’s a piercing and fun convention that lights up the play and brings several levels of understanding to Gar’s relationships with his father, his housemaid/nanny, his teacher, and his friends. We understand the depth of his travails by seeing both sides, his inner and outer personas, as he faces the unknown.

Philadelphia, Here I Come! was Brian Friel’s first full-on success, coming on the heels of John F. Kennedy’s presidency and benefiting from the interest in Irish culture that it brought. It was the longest running (326 performances) Irish play on Broadway at its time.

I do want to also say something about Irish Repertory Theatre and toot its horn. It is a solid organization, in business since 1988, where every play I’ve been to gives a satisfying theatrical experience, and Philadelphia, Here I Come! is no exception. It’s a fulfilling evening of theatre all the way around and worth your time beyond the opportunity to see Brian Friel’s work.

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Philadelphia, Here I Come! was written by Brian Friel, and is directed by Ciarán O’Reilly.

The cast:  Ciaran Byrne, Peter CormicanTerry DonnellyPatrick Fitzgerald, Deirdre Madigan, David McElwee, Clare O’Malley, Ciarán O’Reilly, Tim PalmerJames Russell, AJ Shively, and Emmet Smith.

With scenic design by Charlie Corcoran, costume design by Orla Long, lighting design by Michael Gottlieb, sound design and original music by Ryan Rumery & M. Florian Staab, and properties by Nicole Rozanski.

Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street), tickets can be purchased here.

The play is running 2 hours and 15 minutes with an intermission and is presented through May 5.