‘Come From Away’ lands at the National with a boatload of care and joy
Strong, energetic, tight and precise ensemble work is one of the greatest joys of theatre. Come from afar — written by Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Heim, and directed by Christopher Ashley — is the quintessential ensemble show, exploring the temporary and accidental community created between the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, and the passengers and crews of 38 transatlantic flights hijacked there on 9/11. As Heim and Sankoff commented in an interview, it’s not so much a 9/11 story as a 9/12 story, about how people react to each other after a tragedy.
The series’ 12 actors, all of whom play multiple roles, seamlessly and instantaneously switch from city dwellers to “airplane people” and back again, changing accents or clothing or rearranging the wooden chairs in the set design of Beowulf Boritt to represent the rows of an airplane or a room. coffee. The majority of the musical numbers are group pieces in which the company members, with perfect timing, bring individual lines into their current character.
The impeccable mechanics of the show’s intricate blocking and movement (choreographed by Kelly Devine) never obscures the emotional power of the material. Come from afar has often been called “comforting” (sometimes pejoratively). That’s true, but that term doesn’t describe the range of feelings that permeate the show: fear and uncertainty, love found and lost, empathy and suspicion, joy and grief, moments of reflection and moments of laughter.
That these sentiments are so clearly perceived by the audience is due in large part to the fact that the characters, situations, and often the exact words spoken are firmly grounded in reality. In 2011, Sankoff and Heim interviewed many attendees, creating what was effectively an oral history of the event. To mold this raw material into a show, they used the stories of some specific participants, while creating other characters as composites.
Of the former, Beverly (Marika Aubery) is the most notable. The first female captain of American Airlines, she gets the show’s standout solo number, “Me and the Sky,” an autobiographical piece about overcoming ingrained prejudice against women in the cockpit. Aubery pulls out the park number. As a middle-aged couple who fall in love in Gander, Nick and Diane (Chamblee Ferguson and Christine Toy Johnson) have a sweet duet, “Stop the World,” as they contemplate breaking up too soon after meeting.
Given the number of stories packed into the 100-minute show, the characters are shown in previews rather than lengthy development. To name a few: Bonnie (Sharone Sayegh), of the Gander SPCA, leads an effort to rescue the many animals in airplane cargo holds, including a rare pregnant primate. Danielle K. Thomas as Hannah, desperately worried about the fate of her son, a New York firefighter, sings the poignant “I Am Here”, as she tries to reach him by phone. Claude (Kevin Carolan) is the mayor of Gander, quietly organizing the effort to care for the 7,000 newcomers to his town of 9,000. Bob (James Earl Jones Jr.) is a city dweller who finds the peace and security of a small Canadian town disconcerting. Kevin T. and Kevin J. (Jeremy Woodward and Nick Duckart) are a gay couple whose time in Gander highlights the strains in their relationship. Duckart also plays Ali, the only Muslim in the story, who is viewed with suspicion by many others.
The Celtic/folk-influenced score includes stomping numbers, like the opener “Welcome to the Rock” and the karaoke bar number, “Screech In,” the latter set in the middle of a comedic welcoming ceremony involving kissing a fish. Some of the set numbers are mostly explanatory, such as “Blankets and Bedding,” as the residents prepare to take care of the residents outside. Others depict a group vibe, like “28 Hours/Wherever We Are,” about the anxiety and frustration of passengers who were forced to stay on planes, or “Something’s Missing,” about the melancholy of leaving so planes are allowed to leave. The seven-piece band, fronted by Cameron Moncur, were a lively presence throughout and provided a mini-concert for the audience after the curtain call (which, appropriately for an ensemble show, was a salute collective for all actors). The audience, already on their feet, applauds.
Howell Binkley’s lighting design was as quick and specific as the writing, moving from actor to actor as lines were exchanged. The colors behind the plank wall in the background of the set provided a subtle backdrop for the moods of various scenes. Toni-Leslie James’ costume design emphasized the “real people” aspect of the series, with occasional character-related enhancements (e.g., Beverly’s uniform jacket).
Kindness can be difficult to portray. The kindness of strangers may seem like an anomaly in a world where kindness itself seems strange, when many people, often in circumstances far more dire than those of the passengers landing in Gander, are kept at bay. Come from afar succeeds in portraying kindness, kindness and empathy as concrete, everyday ways in which ordinary people live their lives; no heroism or extraordinary moral sensibility is required. He does this in a musical and theatrical ensemble that creates joy for those who watch him.
Duration: 1h40 without intermission.
Come from afar plays through April 17, 2022, on tour at the National Theater, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC. Evening performances take place daily at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17 are at 2 p.m. Tickets ($65 to $130) are available in line. There is also a daily digital lottery.
the Come from afar The North American tour cast and creative credits are here.
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