By Mukul Khurana
On 9/11 of 2001, Gander was discovered by America. To put it correctly, this small Canadian town on the island of Newfoundland was rediscovered by America. It is the location of Gander International Airport.
Here comes an important fact—it was, by virtue of its geography, an important refueling site for transatlantic aircraft as they had to stop somewhere after crossing the ocean.
Here is another fact—most of the streets in Gander are named after aviators—Earhart, Lindbergh, Yeager, and the like. To this day, Gander International Airport still serves as the airport of choice when it comes to medical or security emergencies–hence the 9/11 connection.
Let me go back. For some reason, I had set the alarm to NPR before going to sleep on September 10. I woke up to a report that I thought was a dream. On the radio it was announced that a plane had just struck one of the buildings of the World Trade Center. Not quite being able to comprehend what I was hearing, I thought I was getting something wrong. However, my brain did click into high gear. I knew that confirmation for such an event could only be had by watching TV news.
When I switched on the TV, a second plane crashed into another building. At that point, I knew it was all real—that this was no accident. Usually, I don’t write in the first person when it comes to reviews. However, 9/11 was a turning point for America. Whatever America was prior to that date, it isn’t anymore. That was my point of view.
“Come From Away,” which will be performed at the La Jolla Playhouse until Sunday, July 12, is a prime example of the fact that every event has multiple narratives.
What happens when your plane is diverted to Gander, Newfoundland? What if you are not told what is happening in the name of national security? Do you want to know what is going on more than you want to tell your loved ones where you are? Or, do you just want to know how those who are closest to you are? Is everyone in your world safe?
Directed by Christopher Ashley (Artistic Director at La Jolla Playhouse), “Come From Away” offers many insights into how such an event affects all kinds of people. First, there is the community of Canadians living on the island of Newfoundland. They have nothing to do with this terrible event. But they are asked to help by accepting 38 planes that were heading into the affected areas of America and hosting 7,000 passengers in their community of 10,000.
What strikes the audience in such a moving and touching performance is the music, and just how good it is. Supported by an incredible musical score, the play’s talented musicians were able to convey emotions with seemingly great ease. Irene Sankoff and David Hein have provided the book, music, and lyrics that transform a play with a serious message into a musical one can take seriously. The haunting music stays with you long after leaving the theater.
Also worth mentioning: the choreography by Kelly Devine and the music supervision by Ian Eisendrath attest to the fact that La Jolla Playhouse aspires to bring the best technical efforts in line with creativity writ large. It cannot be stressed how important it is to keep high standards when it comes to production values.
But storytelling is much more than that. This particular take has five years of research behind it, so it is hardly some superficial skimming of events. If anything, had America had the chance to process 9/11 in this fashion, maybe the wars that followed (and continue) since the beginning of the new millennial wouldn’t have been launched. Maybe we wouldn’t be where we are.
This is how Gander, Newfoundland, reacts to the news that passengers from dozens of planes headed for America are now heading for Canada. In the spirit of true generosity—they take everyone in and welcome them into their homes. Imagine if you will that we pay it forward by welcoming refugees from war torn conflicts into our homes…
This is a play especially worth seeing in our present climate of negativity and conflict. If not for the noble ideas, go for the music. All the actors have voices that soar like the airlines in the play. Worthy of special notice: the charming southern accented and strong voice of Jenn Colella as Beverly. The pilot’s voice and poise also are a great commercial for American Airlines.
The fiddle, as played by Tiffany Seeker, takes on a new dimension with so much passion behind it. Suddenly, a whole generation raised on the sounds of a guitar, open up to the humble cousin. Everyone else in this production (because a play is a team effort) is to be equally applauded—as mentioned, the acting and musical talent on stage is top notch. (In a logical and orderly world) this play is going to Broadway.
Come From Away
May 29 – July 12, 2015
Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre
La Jolla Playhouse
2910 La Jolla Village Drive
La Jolla CA, 92037