A real tear-jerker

The latest Malaysian restaging of Philadelphia, Here I Come! will have you crying and laughing at least once by the end of the show

THE Actors Studio and klpac’s production Philadelphia, Here I Come! is about Danny Tan, your typical middle class boy, born and bred in Cheras. Feeling unfulfilled, he decides to take up his aunt’s offer to join her in Philadelphia. The story takes place on the night before, and the morning of, Danny’s departure to America.

The role of Danny is portrayed by two characters, Danny PUBLIC (the Danny that people see, talk to and talk about), and Danny PRIVATE (the unseen man, the man within, the conscience).

Between the two Dannys, they fantasise about their soon-to-be new life in Philadelphia – one where he doesn’t have to face the former love of his life, Vicky Lim, or his uncommunicative father.

Brian Friel’s original Philadelphia, Here I Come! premiered at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin in 1964 and ran on Broadway for 326 performances and earned several Tony Award nominations.

The play, set in the fictional town of Ballybeg, County Donegal, has been adapted for the Malaysian stage by Joe Hasham and takes place in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. It has been staged thrice locally to critical success – in 1994, 1998 and 2013 – each time to a full house.

Joe revisits this iconic play and brings back some of its original cast members, including the beloved Faridah Merican, Patrick Teoh and Andre D’Cruz, along with all-new cast members.

In TAC’s version, Faridah (who’s also the executive producer of the show) plays Mak Cik Esah, the Tan’s witty housekeeper.

In the original show, the O’Donnell’s housekeeper is named Madge, a woman in her sixties who’s worked for them for a long time, and therefore feels comfortable enough to share her many opinions about how they ought to treat one another.

In the play, Faridah’s Mak Cik Esah is the closest thing to a mother figure for Danny, which is why he acts most like himself around her. She cares for him while grappling with her own disappointment and sadness.

Teoh plays S.B. Tan, the taciturn father (known as S.B. O’Donnell in the original). This is Patrick’s third time portraying the character. As a shop owner who loves his routine, he barely acknowledges Danny’s imminent departure.

Private Danny manages to predict S.B.’s every move, from his every comment to his nightly game of chess with his friend. S.B.’s relationship with Danny is awkward and cold, but there are rare glimpses into his true feelings and sadness about his son’s departure.

Jun Teoh, a gamer and theatre geek, plays scrawny Public Danny Tan. Public Danny is the main character of the play and just like his father, he seldom shows his emotions and prefers to keep everything inside. Danny pretends that he is eager to get to America and leave his old life behind, but Private Danny says the opposite.

On the other side of the coin, Nabil Zakaria plays Private Danny, the man within, and the conscience of the character. Throughout the course of the play, he is portrayed as almost the complete opposite of Public Danny. He is also sharper and more critical than Public Danny, and he says the things that Public Danny is unable to say.

There are times when Private Danny became overwhelmed with emotion, although the messy dialogue between the two Dannys made it hard to understand what they were talking about.

Despite all that, the play is a tear-jerker about leaving home, and Act 2 was my favourite part. For a fast-paced, heavily dialogued show, the deafening and emotion-flooded silence is what got me.

Act 1 saw the truly heartbreaking sad love affair between Danny and Vicky, and I loved how the lighting was done for Vicky’s home scene.

In Act 3, the sounds and clacking of slippers beneath the actors’ feet and constant ticking of the clock in contrast to the silence really makes you root for the father and son to just say what they want to say to each other already, and the scene of Danny’s last farewell with the boys was a convincing portrayal of how a group of boys act around each other.

Despite only having a fixed set despicting a typical Malaysian home, the storytelling reels you in, and will have you crying and laughing at least once by the end of the show.

I went to their full house final show on July 17 at klpac’s pentas 2. To be honest, I missed the first ten minutes of the show because I was late and parking was hard to find, so if you’re ever coming for a show at this venue, make sure to come earlier to get the best seats in the house as it’s free seating.

Vicky’s heartbreaking scene. – CHEW SENG CHEONG