Other Minority Theatres
The ambivalence toward the journey is apparent moments into the first episode of a play by an Irishman set in the old world just prior to the voyager's departure for the new world. Brian Friel's Philadelphia, Here I Come! takes place between seven in the evening and the following morning, a few hours before Gareth O'Donnell is to leave Ireland for a new life in America. Two actors play the role because, although Gar knows that he has no future in the village of Ballybeg in County Donegal, the decision to leave has divided him into two selves, a Public and a Private. The play is a dialogue between the two as the young man prepares for the journey, with the cast maintaining the illusion that only Public can hear his alter ego to converse with him and that no one, not even Public, can see him.
Two images summarize Gar's reasons for emigrating. During the course of the evening, three fellows that he palled with since school days stop by to say goodbye. After a few awkward minutes, they leave, professing excitement at the prospect of drinking at the hotel and picking up two English ladies there. Private, who knows better, reminds Public of the nights Gar went with them. In the disparity between an Irishman's boasting about his sexual prowess and the truth of his standing in the raw wind outside a hotel and furtively peeping at two women within who will not look up from their knitting, Friel captures the reality of life for a people tormented by the disparity between their country's glorious past and shrunken present.
The second image comes from within the O'Donnell family. Widowed three days after Gar's birth, father and son have so drifted apart over the years that they have nothing to say to each other beyond the daily operation of the former's dry goods store, where the latter works. Middle-aged when he married