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Free «Brian Friel: “Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Apart from Beckett, Brian Friel is one of the significant Irish playwrights with regard to dramatic achievement and cultural significance since the heydays of Abbey Theatre (Roche, 2012). The play that catapulted him to international fame was “Philadelphia, Here I Come”, which succeeded in his own country and was acclaimed abroad. Although his work is overtly rich in Irish content, Friel’s plays have easily translated to other cultural and political contexts. They deal with themes like love, authority, shattered dreams, and essence of language. In “Philadelphia, Here I come”, Friel blends the surreal into the mundane. Gar is a young Irish man who is on the verge of going to America, leaving behind his friends and family (Hagopian, 1975). The play is Gar’s long goodbye to his home country that is haunted by memories, laughter, and blood. Friel’s play focuses on the predicament of Gar; as he wishes to leave the place, he feels he is deeply attached to his home, for the sake of his own growth and integrity. Since exile is apparently the underlying theme of the play, the playwright creates an illusion of movement with Gar and other characters in the play.



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Gar abodes in a familiar territory Friel, which is a fictional village of Ballybeg in Ireland. The action in the play develops during the eve and the morning of the day Gar is to abandon the dull routine of Ballybeg for the sake of unknown terrain of Philadelphia. As one follows Gar in his last evening, in Ballybeg while he prepares to leave, one cannot miss noting that Gar feels himself already an exile, who wishes to immigrate to Philadelphia. This is a desperate and scaring move to abandon the boring routines which he has permitted to escape (Sommer, 2001). The first illusion of movement is seen when the scene shifts from the present to the past and one manages to learn the opportunities and chances for happiness that Gar missed.

Although the characters are still on stage, the dramatist creates an illusion of movement. Friel idealizes the past using flashback. Gar’s mind spans over a time of two and half decades. With the ideas of leaving Ballybeg within less than a day, Gar is obliged to go over the momentous events that made him decide to leave his village (Sommer, 2001). By re-enacting action on stage, Friel shows Gar’s talking to Senator Doogan, as well as his visit to Aunt Lizzie. All this happens within the stage. Gar’s memory is externalized by the use of the stage. There is a lack of motion from the physical stage. The character is still in the same location. This brings about the theme of immobility in which characters desire to move, but do not. The lack of linear progression presented in this play is in tandem with what the audience encounter in the last scene of “Waiting for Godot” in Beckett in which the characters desire to leave, but in the real sense, they do not (Beckett, 1954).

One of the defining characteristics of classical drama is a linear progression in which the plot of a play moves from the introduction, through the climax, and then a denouement. In “Philadelphia, Here I come”, Friel creates an illusion of action; here, the plot of the play centers on the events during the eve, and the day, when Gar has to depart for Philadelphia. However, as the time for Gar’s departure to Philadelphia draws nigh, he realizes that he is more inclined to stay back in Ballybeg than he thought. This is the reason as the play ends; it is not clear whether Ballybeg certainly leaves for Philadelphia or not (Friel, 1966).

Following Gar in the play implies, the spectator needs to follow two characters, the Public, as well as the Private Gar, with each being performed by different actors. Although this may be easily considered as a gimmick in the course of an emerging play, it is an innovative way in which Friel illustrates the inability for the Private and public Gar to connect with each other (Sommer, 2001). It also clarifies the inhibiting impact of memory on action. Through Public Gar and his alter-ego, Private Gar, Friel, also depicts the illusion of movement and the theme of immobility. Visually, on the one hand, the movement of Public Gar is constrained. On the other hand, Private Gar is relatively mobile. This is because he is the unconscious mind that prances around the stage. Public Gar wishes that he was Private Gar because he wants to relocate to Philadelphia where there is freedom. He believes that Ballybeg has entrapped him and wishes he were in Philadelphia where he would be like Private Gar. However, he would not. As Private Gar reveals, his flashy movement depicted at the start of the play becomes limited.

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Friel’s device of using the two sides of Gar allows him to create a predominantly rich character, which is as unobtrusive on the outside as he is on the inside. The audience is privy not only to what Gar says, but to what he would have wished to say (Richards, 1994). The two sides of Gar enable the audience to enter into the mind of Gar and experience the internal monologue. Gar’s conversations, if compared to the stream of consciousness of his other side, depict a contrast to the side of Gar on what he wishes to be and the dire reality of what he is. Like most people, Gar represents two dramatic personalities, and the conflicts between those personalities generate much of the vigor by which he lives his life (Sommer, 2001).

Friel pitches Gar’s schizophrenia in a low key. From the outward, he is eager to abandon the tattered economics of his home country, as well as the weight of his ancestral resentments behind him (Hagopian, 1975). However, from the inside, he is not so sure. At the last moment of his departure to Philadelphia, his inner self makes him ponder whether his decision to leave is driven by the fault of his home country, or he is going to export his phobias with him abroad. Friel’s use of the two dramatic personalities of Gareth achieves a number of goals. One of them is that it enables one to experience the contrast between the character’s inner self and his outer self. It also shows moments when the inner self of Gar and the outer self are in unison or aside.

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At the onset of play, the two personalities, Private Gar and Public Gar are together because the former has decided to leave for Philadelphia. On the other hand, Private Gar concurs with the decision, and engages in all manner fantasies. However, as the departure of Gar draws nigh, the unity of the two personalities is broken. Gar is held immobile and is reluctant to make the decision to leave for Philadelphia. As mentioned earlier, Gar expects to get liberation and freedom when he goes to Philadelphia. However, he is only freeing from the reality that is facing him in his home country. Gar's relationship with Screwballs is troubled (Zulunotes.com, 2009). It is marked from the beginning of the play that Gar has strained relationship with his father. Gar is angry at his father because he has not demonstrated any feelings of acknowledging his departure. However, Gar does not want to betray his feelings of disappointment and hurt. As such, he pretends not to care whether he says goodbye to him or not.

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The father-son relationship of Gar with his father is one where there is no meaningful communication. The conversations between the two focus on trivial matters that are related to their business. Screwball’s life is one marked by routine and does not achieve anything out of the mundane. Private Gar can predict what his father would say. However, even though Gar is frustrated with his father’s uncommunicative lifestyle, he is also to blame. The two are never at ease together, and Private Gar holds that Gar is leaving Ballybeg because his father mistreats him and the two embarrass each other (Zulunotes.com, 2009). This is the reason Gar readily accepts Aunty Lizzy’s offer to go to Philadelphia. Although the audience may think that Screwballs is not concerned with the departure of his son Gar, as the play progresses, he gets troubled by the departure of his son. This is captured by the dramatist’s visual effects in which Screwballs reads the newspaper upside as he stares at his son. He even attempts to touch the coat of his son (Friel, 1966).

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In an effort to initiate communication with his father, Gar asks his father to say something. When his father fails to do so, he takes the initiative, and through a flashback, which shows an illusion of movement, Gar reminisces past when he used to fish with Screwballs (Friel, 1966). These were happy moments when father and son had a cordial relationship. Gar does this in an effort to initiate a meaningful communication with his father. However, he is obsessed with trivial things as he tries to remember even the color of the boat. These details may not matter to Screwballs as they do to him. The discordant father-son relationship persists until the curtain falls, but one is for sure, Friel has managed to give an illusion of movement through the fragmented personality of Gar, as well as show the desire for Gar and his father to communicate.


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