2005_07_arts_philposter.jpg When Gothamist attended this show at the Irish Repertory Theatre the other night, it seemed that we were the youngest in the audience by at least about, oh, forty years, which was a bit alarming. It’s also too bad if that’s been the case in general, because the play is about a young person and issues that pretty much all young people deal with. The problem is, it’s set in the sixties and is by a playwright (Brian Friel) whose biggest fan base is from an older generation. But this shouldn’t deter anyone from going; it’s quite a good show, staged skillfully by director Ciarán O’Reilly, and deserves a wider audience.

The protagonist is Gar O’Donnell (Michael FitzGerald), a young man working in a dead-end job for his father in a tiny Irish village. Through his aunt, he gets the chance to go to the US; he’s bored out of his skull doing what he’s doing, so he pounces on the opportunity, but pieces of his past are holding him back somewhat and making him doubt himself even as he packs his bags and imagines the glamorous life he’ll have working in a Philadelphia hotel and banters with Madge (played with wonderful slyness by Paddy Croft), the unflappable caretaker at the O’Donnell house since Gar’s mother died young. One of those past issues is Gar’s painfully aborted romance with Kate Doogan (Tessa Klein); the other is his complicated relationship with his father (Edwin C. Owens), who is congenitally incapable of showing affection even though he needs Gar’s love as much as Gar needs his. Even without these background difficulties, it would be a huge decision for a young guy from Ballybeg village to strike out alone to an unknown country, even if a garrulous aunt awaits him there, and throughout the play Gar is at war with himself over whether this is the right thing for him to do.

2005_07_arts_twogars.jpg This uncertainty, which must sound familiar to most young people (and some older folks as well, of course), is dramatized by the inclusion of Gar’s thoughts as a flesh-and-blood character. He’s played by the hilarious, versatile James Kennedy, whose sharp features and hyper movement are a perfect foil for FitzGerald, who is somewhat more babyfaced and languid. And where “public” Gar is tactful, responsible, and considerate, “private” Gar is mocking, cynical, and easily exasperated by the obtuseness of those around him; he basically shows the reality of Gar’s inner world. Of course, “private” Gar isn’t just jaded and rude – he expresses all the hopes and fears the young man has, especially his trepidation about what he’s doing going to America. This alter ego approach could’ve been lame and over-the-top, but the actors play the two versions of Gar differently enough, yet collaborate smoothly enough, that it really works and makes for a very funny yet insightful view of a person who otherwise might have come across as sort of boring, since his situation is pretty familiar in many ways.

Ireland is sometimes called the Celtic Tiger because of the economic growth that has made it unnecessary for people like Gar to emigrate in search of a livelihood, so that element of the show is slightly out of date. However, in so many other ways these frustrations that tangle up in young people’s lives, the yearning and the mix of hesitation and rashness and the head-butting with uncommunicative parents, are the same now as they were when Friel wrote the play, and in this fine production that continuity comes across loud and clear.

Details: Philadelphia, Here I Come! is showing at Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd, until Sept. 4. Make ticket reservations via the box office, 212-727-2737.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.