Philadelphia, Here I Come!: Lizzy Sweeney played with brittle invincibility

Performances give every evidence of director Geoff Gould’s respect for script

Shane O’Regan (Gar Public), Alex Murphy (Gar Private), in Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come! Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Shane O’Regan (Gar Public), Alex Murphy (Gar Private), in Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come! Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

 

Despite its provenance as a narrative of rural Ireland in 1964, the only nostalgic moment in this Patrick Talbot production of a famous play is when the curtain comes down. This softly falling closure of a story, in which the emotional potential of silence is so significantly articulated, is in itself an act of remembrance.

If there are suspicions that the theme of a frustrated son leaving a village cloistered by its own conventions is possibly outdated, they are vanquished by this presentation. The originality of playwright Brian Friel’s device of a protagonist revealed both by his outer and inner self – his illusions and his realities, his dreams and his conscious awareness expressed with raw-edged irony – ensures that this is a play of our own time.

Deepening his essay on loss and leaving in a curve from the bereft to the verbose, Friel examines that yearning that can find solace only in headlong speech

Riddled with the assumptions of comic-strip America, Gar O’Donnell is on his way to the land of sunshine and promise. The Public Gar (Shane O’Regan) accepts the farewell visits typical of his community, the lads bursting with bravado and fantasy, a failed teacher, a housekeeper of stoic affection. Boosted by a reading of Edmund Burke on the French Revolution, the Private Gar (Alex Murphy) sees through it all and sees beyond, realising that Gar has never interpreted the rooted sentiments of his monosyllabic father. Hindered by time and chance, the emotional close calls hit like missives of unread signals.

A sparse set by Sabine Dargent, costumes by Liv Monaghan, sound by Cormac O’Connor and lighting by Paul Denby support a play as neatly packed as a free-range egg. Deepening his essay on loss and leaving in a curve from the bereft to the verbose, Friel examines that yearning that can find solace only in headlong speech. A contradiction to the ebullience of youthful optimism is exposed by Fionula Linehan’s brittle invincibility as Lizzy Sweeney. Understated or loudly vocal, these performances give every evidence of director Geoff Gould’s respect for the script and its intentions as Catherine Walsh, Seamus O’Rourke and Mark O’Regan carry a conviction that brings an unembellished reading to its heart.

Continues at Cork Opera House until Saturday, October 16th

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