On Wednesday, January 26, 1994, I saw Philadelphia, Here I Come! at Constans Theatre. It was written by Brian Friel and directed by David Shelton; it was presented by The University of Florida College of Fine Arts, Department of Theater, and Florida Players. The actor who deserves the most commentary is, in my opinion, Alex Campbell, who played the role of the private Gareth O’Donnell. I think it was a difficult role and he managed to act the part well.
One of the interesting choices he made was, in the first act, to speak with a pseudo-country accent while supposedly acting out the feelings of the public Gar. I found it hard to understand why the character was speaking country, although this is partly because I didn’t realize that Alex was playing the part of Gar’s psyche. I thought that Alex Campbell and R. Taigne Hammock (who played the role of the actual Gar) were two individual characters in the play. When I realized what was going on, their choices made much more sense. I know it may seem pithy, but one of Alex’s choices, to not roll his sleeves up in the same fashion as R. Taigne, made a difference in my comprehension of them as one person. Except for when he spoke country, though, Alex’s ability to speak with an Irish accent was excellent. I think he did this even better than R. Taigne. It made it easier to suspend disbelief.
The only one of Alex’s choices that really didn’t work for me was how strongly he played his character at some points in the play. The most memorable points being the scene involving Gar’s ‘friends’ and the first scene with Gar and his father (and, of course, Gar’s psyche). I think he was overacting a bit in the scene with Gar and Senator Doogan, also. When Gar’s drinking buddies went to see him off, Gar’s psyche (Alex) was not featured much. But Alex chose to make himself featured. I know that Alex’s character was supposed to be omnipresent as far as Gar was concerned, but in this scene I was more interested in Gar’s true actions and words and Gar’s psyche, played with powerful presence, didn’t work for me. At times in the first scene involving only Gar and his father, Alex chose to play his character with too much presence, in my opinion. I thought his choice was well founded, because obviously this was an emotional and thought-filled time for the private Gar, but I think it was more important to see and hear what the public Gar was doing. (I’m not suggesting that anyone should have written the scene differently; R. Taigne chose to play it without much presence and Alex chose to be there, almost upstaging R. Taigne at some points.) The scene in which Gar is trying to confront Senator Doogan with his true feelings for Kate was another example of Alex choosing to be more there than he needed to be. With wild arm gestures and stamping of feet, Alex chose to make himself more noticeable than I thought he should have.
The final scene with Gar, Gar’s psyche, and Gar’s father, on the other hand, was exceptional. All three actors chose to play their respective roles more subdued and it made the scene much more powerful. Although it was a comedy, and this last scene was more intensely feeling than humorous, it intensified the mood for me and made me feel much more sympathetic and empathetic for all three of the character’s emotions.
I don’t mean to sound as if I thought Alex’s choices were all ones that didn’t work for me. In most of the scenes I think he did an outstanding job. For example, in the scene with Lizzy and Con Sweeney, in which Alex chose to remain almost motionless in Gar’s bedroom, I think Alex made a good choice. It worked for me to have Gar’s psyche almost transparent and locked up for this scene. It was an example of Alex’s under-acting being stronger and enhancing the scene more than if he had over-acted.
The entire cast and crew worked together wonderfully in just about the whole performance and created a play which I will remember for a long time. (Sorry, Pete, I just had no idea how to end this…)