Philadelphia, Here Friel Comes (Again)

Philadelphia, Here Friel Comes (Again) When "Philadelphia, Here I Come!" opens at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia on Jan. 17, it will be exactly 30 years after Brian Friel's haunting masterpiece was first performed there.

When "Philadelphia, Here I Come!" opens at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia on Jan. 17, it will be exactly 30 years after Brian Friel's haunting masterpiece was first performed there.

The Walnut is proud to be presenting Philadelphia's 30th anniversary production of one of Friel's most acclaimed works.

"Philadelphia, Here I Come!" recently had successful revivals in London and New York. Critics praise it as a "fiercely beautiful drama" and full of "poetic radiance." New York Times reviewer David Richards said Friel "understands perfectly the ways the heart leaps and lurches . . . The language in Mr. Friel's plays is as beautiful as any being spoken on a stage today."

This charming story is set in 1964 in the Irish village of Ballybeg. A young man named Gareth (Gar) prepares to leave his homeland for a fresh start in Philadelphia with his aunt and uncle. Though bored with life in the village and excited about America, Gar has mixed feelings on the eve of his departure. His inner struggle over this important decision is full of humor and tender emotion.

Gar and his mischievous alter-ego reflect upon the life he's leaving behind . . . the wise-cracking but lovable housekeeper; rowdy chums who boast about fictitious conquests of the opposite sex; the local priest who stops by like clockwork for a nightly game of checkers with Gar's father.Gar wonders what might have been if only he had the courage to speak up for his former sweetheart, Kate Doogan! Kate encouraged Gar to speak to her father about their marriage, but Gar, for all his desire, couldn't face the stern Senator Doogan. He lost his Kate to an up-and-coming Dublin doctor.

The situation weighing most heavily on Gar's mind is his relationship with his father. Throughout his 25 years, Gar had only one moment of closeness with his father. He'd like to recapture that moment, and build on it, but will he have time?

Gar recently met his Aunt Lizzy and Uncle Con , with whom he'll live in Philadelphia. Lizzy has painted quite an attractive picture of Gar's new accommodations: a neat bedroom with TV and air conditioning and his own bathroom! Gar claims he can't wait to leave Ballybeg -- but his heart is not quick to let go.

Friel was born in Omagh, County Tyrone in Ireland in 1929. Before becoming an author, he taught Math and English in Northern Ireland, from 1941 to 1960. Eventually, Friel decided to devote all his time to writing.

BBC Belfast produced his first radio plays in 1958. Friel also wrote short stories, many of them for The New Yorker magazine. He began writing plays for the stage in the early 1960s and has penned 24 to date, more than half of which have been produced in the US.

In addition to "Philadelphia . . . ," American production of Friel's plays have included "The Loves of Cass McGuire," "Lovers," "Crystal and Fox," "The Mundy Scheme," "The Freedom of the City," "Aristocrats," "Faith Healer," "Translations," "Fathers and Sons," "Wonderful Tennessee" and "Dancing at Lughnasa," which won three Tonys and Britain's Olivier Award for Best Play.

In 1980, Friel co-founded the Field Day Theatre Company with Stephen Rea in Derry, Northern Ireland. Also in 1980, he won the Irish-American Cultural Institute Award in honor of his work for the Irish stage. The Institute has handed out annual awards since 1966, but rarely for theatre works. The BBC also bestowed an exceptional honor on Friel. In 1989, BBC Radio devoted a six-play season to his work, the first living playwright so honored.

You won't want to miss the Walnut production of "Philadelphia, Here I Come!" This touching drama by Ireland's most celebrated living playwright will surely warm your heart this winter. Tickets are now on sale. For tickets and information, call (215) 574-3550, ext. 4, from 10 AM to 10 PM seven days a week.

-- By Ira Kamens