Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Through the efforts of Sankoff and Hein, the previously little-known story of the "plane people" who landed in Gander, Newfoundland, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is now famous throughout the world. Working with 12 multi-talented actors and eight spirited onstage musicians, director Christopher Ashley manages to present experiences faced by the thousands of international travelers stranded after the closing of U.S. airspace as well as Canadian townspeople who suddenly had to take care of their unexpected visitors.
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, along with the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, air traffic controllers rerouted 38 flights to Gander, which fortunately has a large (now underused) airfield built in the days when planes needed to refuel before flying across the Atlantic Ocean. Residents of Gander and neighboring towns worked to provide food and shelter for the "come-from-aways," communicate with non-English speakers, and make them feel like part of the community for the length of their visit.
Beowulf Boritt's scenic design suggests both interior and exterior settings with minimal set pieces, mostly mismatched chairs, bordered by tall trees that also serve as lampposts for part of Howell Binkley's lighting design. Toni-Leslie James' costumes are appropriately low-key, with some humorous mismatches when the locals lend rustic clothes to more cosmopolitan visitors.
All cast members play both residents and visitors, forming a tight ensemble. Marika Aubrey gets the standout role of American Airlines pilot Beverley Bass, who tells her story in the solo "Me and the Sky," but she also plays a schoolteacher with zanily romantic fantasies about one of the plane people. Some of the visitors–a gay couple (Jeremy Woodard, Nick Duckart) and an African-American New Yorker (James Earl Jones II)–find more reassuring welcomes than they had expected, but there is one person forced to deal with anti-Arab backlash: an Egyptian passenger also played by Duckart.
Conductor Cameron Moncur joins seven other musicians in performing a score that melds local musical instruments (whistles, Irish drums) with electric and acoustic guitar and bass, fiddle, and accordion.
Come from Away runs through April 17, 2022, at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC. For ticket information, please call 1-800-447-7400 or visit www.thenationaldc.com. For more information on the tour, visit ComefromAway.com.
Book, music, and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Directed by Christopher Ashley