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“Come From Away” seeking good in a disaster

Posted on May 1, 2017 by in Uncategorized |


There’s a cred that goes with being a native Newfoundlander — so much so that its a half-serious joke that you’re a “CFA” come-from-away unless your grandparents were born here. From Wordnik.

“Come From Away” is a heartwarming original musical written by Canadians about how a small Canadian town instantly welcomed 6,800 stranded international travelers during the 911 attacks.

Now showing at the Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City, the play has been getting strong reviews, both for its Canadian maritime-leaning musical scores and its message.

“If you’re an out-of-town visitor to New York looking for a feel-good night of theater, then Come From Away is surely recommended.” –Entertainment Weekly.

Watching this funny but poignant show while sitting comfortably in the theatre, we must remember that just a few blocks away, the World Trade Towers crashed down, killing thousands. When two jets slammed into the towers, all U.S. air traffic was grounded immediately. Twenty-seven landed in the Newfoundland capital of St. John’s, population 205,000, a big city capable of handling the population surge.

But 38 planes landed in Gander, a town smaller than Red Lion-Dallastown combined. Until the 1960’s, Gander was the busiest airport in North America because trans-Atlantic planes had to refuel before continuing their flight to the U.S.  Newer planes were able to fly non-stop to the American airports, and the Gander airport business slowed to a crawl. With four long runways able to accommodate the big jets still operational, it was another logical place to land.

“On the northeast tip of North America, on an island called Newfoundland, there’s an airport.
And next to it is a town called Gander.
Tonight we honour what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found.”– From “Come From Away”

Gander had the airport, but a fairly small town (in the ‘middle of nowhere’ according to the show) was ill-equipped to handle the crush of people. No one knew how long the planes were grounded–a day, a week? As it turns out, it was five days. Still,  passengers would need food, housing, and basic necessities, including diapers, blankets, pillows, baby food, medicine (in addition to daily prescriptions). All that was available to them was in their overnight or carry-on bags. Many passengers didn’t speak English.

In addition, 18 animals needed care, including a pregnant monkey. Passengers were not allowed in the planes’ cargo hold to retrieve their belongings since the threat to U.S. security was uncertain. In short, the passengers were in the dark about events, and only much later in their stay did they know why they were grounded. And, once they knew the story, passengers from mideastern countries were instantly suspected.

But Gander persevered, rallying locals for supplies and logistics. A bitter school bus strike threatened to make transporting passengers to various facilities nearly impossible, but even that was forgiven until the 911 crisis was over.

Throughout the show, characters played many different parts, going from Gander town mayor to passenger, or half of a gay couple to a Muslim passenger. Scenery remained generally the same with wooden chairs being rearranged to become the airplane interior, the inside of a Tim Hortons, or a dinner table where two strangers met. They were later married, and spent their honeymoon in Newfoundland.

But for all the Canadian giggles about Tim Horton’s, toutons (pastry) and and Newfoundlanders’ speaking idiosyncrasies, there were many solemn moments as well, when the passengers stood at attention to show respect for Americans lost.  One passenger couldn’t get through to her son, a New York firefighter. Later, she found that he died that day.

Newfoundland is the only place outside the United States to share the steel from the World Trade Center.