Philadelphia, Here I Come! is a tragicomedy. It is the study of a family where communication has completely broken down. It becomes clear soon after the play begins that the protagonist, Gar O’Donnell, has a strained relationship with his father, S.B. O’Donnell.
S.B. is absent from the stage for much of Episode I, possibly to suggest that he is absent from Gar’s life.
When we do see them together, much of the conversation is provided by Gar Private, who articulates Gar Public’s thoughts and feelings.
This means that the stage - to the characters involved - is actually in silence. Look for examples of this and imagine the scene without Private’s commentary to see the effect.
Gar Private chats incessantly. His sarcastic comments can be funny, providing much of the play’s comedy, but they highlight the lack of communication between father and son - thereby providing much of the tragedy too.
It is the contradictions here that make the play a tragicomedy.
Madge - the O’Donnell’s housekeeper - recognises the problem. She also uses sarcasm when she comments, “A body couldn’t get a word in edgeways with you two!”
Along with the imaginary voice of Private, Madge is often the only voice breaking the silence when Gar and his father are together.
At times it seems that both characters can only communicate through Madge, for example when Gar resorts to asking Madge about his mother because S.B. gives so little away.
Like Gar’s pretense that he is excited about emigrating, S.B. also gives the false impression of not caring about Gar’s imminent departure.
He makes Gar work overtime on his last day, he fails to mention that Gar is going at all and his routine continues as if there is nothing extraordinary about this - but the stage directions indicate his real feelings.
We see this in Episode II when he reads his newspaper and seems to ignore Madge’s frustrations - but the stage directions note that the newspaper “has been upside down”.