Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Since its Broadway opening in 2017 (and its pre-Broadway stops including Ford's Theatre), Come from Away has shared a story of kindness and bigheartedness that was little known at the time it happened. Authors Irene Sankoff and David Hein (book, music and lyrics) have taken a documentary-musical approach to the way the residents of Gander, on the coast of Newfoundland, and neighboring towns stepped up in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania; the characters are identified by their real names.
When the United States government shut down its airspace following the attacks, 38 U.S.-bound planes from around the world were forced to land at Gander, once a hub for planes to refuel before flying across the Atlantic Ocean but by then little used. The arrival of the "plane people" nearly doubled the population of the town, but everyone pitched in to find them places to stay and provide food, clothing and hospitality.
Director Christopher Ashley tells the story through 12 multi-talented performers who, with a shift in accent or a new costume piece, play both the townspeople and the visitors. The main accent points on Beowulf Boritt's set are some tall trees, a mismatched group of chairs, and a turntable, but they turn into everything from a crowded airplane stuck on the tarmac to the school building turned into a temporary residence, individual homes and yards, and a pub where the "come-from-aways" socialize with the locals.
The score deserves special mention as the authors use traditional Newfoundland folk instruments, along with electric and acoustic guitar and bass, to bring together the many parts of the world represented in the story. It exemplifies the sense of how the locals learn to communicate across gaps in language and tradition by, for example, providing a cooking facility to accommodate passengers who keep kosher, eat halal meat, or are vegetarians.
Among the most prominent performers are Marika Aubrey as Beverley, a trailblazing pilot for American Airlines; Sharone Sayegh as Bonnie, a local SPCA employee caring for animals on board the planes; Julie Knitel as Janice, a local television reporter who gets an exclusive scoop on her first day of work; Kevin Carolan as the mayor; and, most touchingly, Danielle K. Thomas as the mother of a New York City firefighter and Julie Johnson as a local woman who becomes a friend amidst the fear and desperation.