By Patrick Hurley
In today’s volatile and divisive political climate, where lines are being drawn separating ideology from humanity, it’s heartening to see a work of art that not only demonstrates how small the divide actually is between all of us, but also shows how kindness and benevolence, charity and goodwill are indeed still a thing to which we can all aspire. Come From Away, on its first National Tour, playing now at the Ahmanson Theatre, is a high spirited, evocative and fascinating true story about the capacity of human kindness and the indelible spirit that we all long for in times of crisis.Come From Away tells the amazing true story of 7,000 people that were
stranded on 9/11 in a very small town in Newfoundland Canada. The story follows a group of passengers on an American Airlines flight headed from Paris to Texas, who get rerouted to the small island and are forced to reside there until the air ban is lifted.
What’s remarkable about this show is not only the improbability of the actual story itself, wherein an entire community pulls together to welcome and provide for thousands of stranded strangers, but also the intimacy with which the production is able to convey it with. It feels like a larger than life Broadway Musical, but it’s actually a smaller ensemble piece that utilizes more theatricality than flashy production value. The ensemble are all playing more than one character, they play the Newfoundland locals, as well as the passengers. And with only an accent or a posture, they create completely separate but equally endearing, and deeply felt characters. We watch as these passengers are kept on a plane for hours and hours, completely unaware of what was happening in the world that day. This was a time before the ubiquity of cell phones and social media and so they were left to wonder if maybe even the end of the world was at hand. Once they’re off the planes, we watch as they all see the news and grapple with the fact that while they were in the air, the world changed forever.
Then both sides, the residents of the town and the passengers realize they’re kind of stuck together for an indefinite amount of time, as it was unclear when any planes would be allowed to fly again.
At first, there are culture clashes and uncomfortable encounters, some of the passengers even feel unsafe at first, and we see the impact that 9/11 immediately had on anyone who was perceived as Middle Eastern. As one Egyptian passenger is subjected to a humiliating body search there is a sense of how the world changed in that one day and that being perceived as “other” can be a terrifying or even dangerous thing. But this is exactly where this show soars. It breaks down cultural walls, and thrusts together a group of people as diverse as you can imagine, and we watch as the lines that divide them slowly dissolve and a community emerges. Friendships are formed, personal ideas are challenged, and even romance blossoms on this small island off the Canadian coast.
The production, under the direction of Christopher Ashley, is joyous. Considering the subject matter, you would expect a heavy handed and maudlin piece, but you get the exact opposite. It’s a brisk, high energy show as full of life as every character you meet in it. And while the music, by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, sometime
s distracts from the more interesting book, which they also wrote, it does allow for heightened emotions to exist in a space where sentimentality never overpowers the humanity. But a couple of times it comes close. It definitely walks the sentimental line, but incredibly never crosses it. Mostly because when it deals with the heavy subject it counters it with a great amount of humor.
The incredible thing about this musical, is that it doesn’t need the music to stand as a truly great piece. It just needs the one thing that separates it from most other Broadway fare, it’s gigantic heart. Even the most hardened cynic, which I admittedly am at times, can’t help but fall under the spell of this exhilarating and inspiring ode to life.
This is a must see. Particularly in the pessimistic and often ominous seeming times we live in. This show will lift you up and remind you that human kindness and connection is all we need, and even in the tiniest, most remote parts of the world we can find it. And if we work together, we can get through anything and maybe even come out on the other side all the better for it.
Come From Away
Book, Music, & Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Directed by Christopher Ashley
November 28-January 6
135 N Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, Ca 90012