Some years ago during an editorial staff meeting; a contributor asked why reporter’s submissions were always 3rd person singular, whereas columnists wrote in the first person. The editor explained that with the former the subject or article was paramount without bias. The latter was opinion and thus readers deserved to be aware of any bias or slant. David Hein’s COME FROM AWAY touches on two events in this writer’s life so impartiality will probably suffer…More about this later.
Like the Kennedy assassination; everyone can recall where they were and what they were doing on that Tuesday morning of September 11th, 2001. The skies over North America were emptied and flights were diverted to the nearest emergency landing sites.
Gander NFLD accepted 38 International flights & 4 military aircraft; a total of 6600 guests to be welcomed by a population of 9700! Doors & hearts were opened and the intrinsic hospitality of the residents rose to the challenge. Hein and his wife Irene Sankoff created a workshop musical about those 72 hours and now the more polished expanded version is on stage at Sheridan’s Studio Theatre.
The fourteen-member cast play (& sing) multiple roles that present the attitudes; fears; emotions and reactions of both the hosts and their diverse visitors. Receiving dissimilar nationalities; backgrounds; social classes; religions would be tough enough on any community but the inhabitants of Gander & most Newfoundlanders are both insular and unique. Director Brian Hill relies solely on stacking chairs for his set and props. We’re still able to appreciate the inside of a coffee shop; auditorium; aeroplane cabin and even a local lookout/lover’s lane locale. We no longer feel the anguish of the passenger’s seeing that long line of cars approaching [an effective bit in the original] but the skill of the cast manages to project the trepidation felt by those stranded travellers.
The troupe all contribute such full measure of vitality and dynamic effort into every one of their characterizations that the audience can actually identify with specific personalities. There are the two ‘Kevin’s’ who are in an alternate relationship whose bonding is being challenged by circumstances. There is the local politico’s whose personalities and affiliations are put to the test. Then there’s the burgeoning affair between two of the strandees that this writer found so touching. Camila Diaz-Varela with her high-wattage smile and extroverted personality is a stand-out; Corey Agnew’s Nick is her diffident and modest Brit who empathetically earns the identification of every male in the audience. Dimpled Jenny Weisz is adorable as the show’s opener and is even a convincing codfish! Alie Mancuso brings credibility and verve to her role as the local TV reviewer, and Joanna Fraser brings all the charisma and élan to her airline pilot role. This lady displays all the virtues and qualities of an actual Air Canada captain who coincidently shares the same surname! Gander’s mayor is Trevor Patt and he puts 100% into his portrayal. Josh Blackstock & Jake Foy are the male partners and neither overdo their depictions. The prayer number including a factual rendering of the last verse of the Kaddish is emotional, draining and very effective. Adrian Zeyl’s Hebrew is faultless!
There are some redundancies and even a few repetitious moments, but the added comedic bits and the deeper exploration into the humanity aspect of the event make this iteration an improvement and an enhancement. The accents are convincing; the references factual and the tempo never wavers. COME FROM AWAY is at Sheridan’s Studio Theatre until Feb. 24th, with a 7:30 curtain. F.Y.I. Gander is at 48°, 57’ 25N; 54° 36’, 30W
My biases: – April 1957; my turbo-prop flight from Israel re-fuelled at snow-covered, Quonset-hutted Gander airport. The facilities were miniscule but staff and local folk made it quite bearable. I’ll always remember their joie de vivre.
In January of 2002, I was deployed by the Red Cross as a rescuer at Ground Zero. It was an unforgettable 21-day experience.