Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME

Review: PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME

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By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

The Irish Heritage Theatre, a new company, is introducing themselves to the city with Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come. This is a play that speaks to the Irish heritage of Philadelphia: it’s about a young man who decides to leave his small town in Ireland to move to Philadelphia. It’s a story of excitement and fear that must have been repeated thousands and thousands of times all over Ireland.

Friel is the Big Daddy of twentieth century Irish drama, and Philadelphia was his first success.  He is best known for Dancing at Lughnasa, although his most thrilling  plays, to my mind, are Translations  and Faith HealerPhiladelphia is not a great play, and its deficiencies—overlong, sentimental, obvious—are highlighted by this brave but amateurish production under John Gallagher’s direction.

It is brave of a new company to present a play requiring a cast of fourteen actors, and to set it on a tiny stage where they barely have room to move (with some unfortunate music leaking through the walls competing with the quiet dialogue).

The drama’s central device is that the protagonist is split between the Gar (Dan McGlaughlin) who is the public person, visible to all the people in his world and  Gar (Steve Medvicick), the private person who speaks his inner thoughts and feelings.  Together they represent the young man’s internal struggle, his yearning to connect with his father, his profound boredom with this predictable town and its people, and both his irritation and his kindness.

McGlaughlin, as the public Gar, is the standout in the cast—perhaps because he’s a good actor, and perhaps because the role calls for restraint—so he delivers a performance that is genuinely nuanced and subtle.  All the other characters are pretty much clichés, variations on the stage Irishman, and played as such: the cold old befuddled father (John Cannon), the failed poet (Steve Gulick), the colleen (Kirsten Quinn) Gar is desperately in love with, the blathering aunt (Mary Pat Walsh), the crass big-talking drunks (Thomas-Robert Irvin, Eric Thompson, William Crawford), the overworked maid ( Kate Danaher).

There’s very little in this production of the tasty language that makes Irish drama so appealing, and Philadelphia, Here I Come offers little understanding of the complex politics and passions that leaving your native land entails.

 

Irish Heritage Theatre at Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 5, 9th & Walnut Sts.Through May 20. Tickets $15-25. Information: www.irishheritagetheatre.com

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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