Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Philadelphia" a Play of Filial Devotion

Cleveland Press March 23, 1967

"Philadelphia, Here I Come" is a play that is sad, human and funny and sometimes all three at once.

It is Irish in origin but universal in theme. Concerning as it does the time in a young man's life when he is about to leave his home to go to America, it brings into focus his sudden awareness of people around him.

Best of all, it is filled with people who are human -- not types. There is the father who never could communicate with his son and the young man himself who reaches so longingly for the tiniest sign of affection from his father.

There is the young man's impetuous alter ego who speaks the thoughts the young man hasn't the courage to utter. And there is the aging house keeper, steadfast and affectionate.

PLAYWRIGHT Brian Friel uses the device of dividing his main character in two. There is the Gareth O'Donnell that everyone sees. Then there is the private Gareth O'Donnell, the inner self who is wiser and funnier and more outspoken but who seldom breaks through into the public Gareth.

Between Friel's skillful writing and the splendid work of the two actors, the characters blend into one and the trick is never bothersome.

The inarticulate Gareth sees and suffers. The inner Gareth, his alter ego, is the one who laughs at people, who cries, who dances, who shouts.

It is the inner man who tells us how much the public Gareth loved a girl whom he lost because he was too inarticulate. It is the private Gareth who prods and pushes his public self to speak of that love or to try to reach his father. And finally it is that inner man who is choked with anger and unspoken love.

THE PLAYWRIGHT places his hero between two worlds and allows him to take a rueful look at both of them.

"Philadelphia" is bright and shiny and full of hope. Then suddenly Friel turns the play upside down. The aunt and uncle with whom he will live are just as suffocating and ordinary as the people at home. And when the last moments come he is wondering sadly why he should go.

Donal Donnelly as the inner man is beautifully funny, sassy and lively. Observe him as he anticipates the small talk that hasn't changed in 20 years, or as he describes, like a radio commentator, the bits of action that have gone before and will go again.

PATRICK BEDFORD as the public Gareth is appealing with his portrait of a man with pent up feelings and bitter disappointments.

Mairin D. O'Sullivan is wonderful as the aging house keeper who wants nothing more than to have a niece named after her and Eamon Kelly skillfully underplays the role of the father.

For all of the play's poignancy there is nothing in it that is maudlin. It is sentimental, true, but it is a decent, quiet and human sentiment.